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Provo's Timpview High claimed the top spot in U.S. News' annual rankings of Utah high schools.
But with Timpview ranked 952nd in the nation, the state barely cracked the Top 1,000 in a year when many traditionally high-performing schools dropped out of sight.
For the past three years, North Logan's InTech Collegiate High School earned the state's top ranking, rising to gold-medal status and a national ranking of No. 162 last year.
This year, InTech failed to earn a ranking from U.S. News, and Utah's Top 5 list consists entirely of newcomers. The state also failed to produce a single gold medal school, according to the magazine's annual report.
"That streak is ending for a year, but the student performance hasn't ended," InTech Principal Jason Stenger said. "We're disappointed for a day, and then we move on."
The U.S. News rankings are based on student performance on statewide tests and Advanced Placement exams, as well as school characteristics including student-to-teacher ratios.
But the rankings also account for the performance of minority and low-income students, which in some cases can lead to the suppression of data to protect student privacy.
Stenger said InTech was effectively disqualified from the U.S. News rankings, because the switch to SAGE Utah's new statewide testing system resulted in too few minority students taking the new exam.
The U.S. News report shows InTech with a smaller student-teacher ratio and a higher college-readiness score than Timpview, but its proficiency scores are listed as "not applicable."
"Had we had those numbers," Stenger said, "we would have been ranked first in the state and somewhere in the top 300 [nationally]."
Federal law bars schools from publicly releasing individual student data. To comply with that law, and to address growing privacy concerns among parents, many states have enacted policies that filter and obscure the scores of student subgroups.
Aaron Brough, chief privacy officer for the Utah State Office of Education, explained the process with the hypothetical example of a small school with a single black or Latino student. If the school's test scores were broken down by demographic groups, he said, that student's academic performance would be publicly available.
"Are we going too far?" Brough asked. "It's kind of a question of public opinion on that. Some people are saying we're not going far enough."
For small schools such as InTech, that privacy protection can come at the expense of accolades. But Stenger said the issue should correct itself before next year's rankings, when larger numbers of students will have taken the SAGE test.
"We anticipate that we'll be back again next year," he said. "Of course, we would love the recognition for our teachers and students."
Timpview Principal Todd McKee attributed the school's top ranking to improved test scores and a growing number of students taking and passing AP exams.
It's great to be recognized by U.S. News, the principal said, but the rankings measure only a couple of components of the high school experience.
"We want to be a great comprehensive school," McKee said, "which means we want to be equally as strong in our extracurricular activities as we are in our classrooms."
Provo School District spokesman Caleb Price said Timpview's ranking is a testament to the hard work of the students and faculty at the school.
"We're very excited that they've been recognized this way," Price said. "Any time you have a national organization ranking your school, especially as No. 1 in the state, I think that's something to take seriously."
Utah's top high schools
1 • Timpview High, Provo School District
National ranking: 952
2 • Timpanogos High, Alpine School District
National ranking: 1,147
3 • Pleasant Grove High, Alpine School District
National ranking: 1,287
4 • Itineris Early College High, West Jordan charter school
National ranking: 1,630
5 • Maple Mountain High, Nebo School District
National ranking: 1,673
Source: U.S. News and World Report