It is near the end of the year so ’tis the season for rankings.  The Top 10 lists; the “Year’s Best…” and similar subjective opinions fill content for a variety of news media.  The same idea proliferates the rating and rankings of more serious topics such as major purchases and now, even schools.

Colleges have been subjected to USNews rankings for years, but now our state is rating elementary and secondary schools in a new School Report Card.  The intentions behind it, and many other rankings, are laudable — they aim to provide consumers with transparency, comparative data and the ability to assess one option over another.  But in reality, they often fail to achieve their intent.

Ranking anything often falls prey to unintended subjectivity.  Even deciding what to measure has value judgments attached to it.  Weighing one thing more than another component reflects the bias of what is deemed important.  One-size-fits-all metrics don’t work for complex systems such as school districts or employers.  

In the end, the best ____ is determined by what you value.  The best car for one person may not be the best car for another.  Knowing that Car A earns 22mpg and Car B averages 32 mpg may be important to you, whereas knowing that Car A goes from 0 to 60 in less time than Car B may be more essential to me. 

The next time you see a list that rates anything vs. another, ask yourself what complexities it is overshadowing.  Is one measure really providing any meaningful data for comparing large schools vs. small or deep dish pizzas vs. thin crust or comedies vs. dramas?  

It’s like rating whether this blog better than the others being written. It may not have as many words as another or as many followers, but those are not measures I value.  I rank high on the ability to take a lunch topic and turn it into a blog, so give me an A on the analogy rating on the Blog Score Card and let me claim the title of Best Blog in the U.S.  Ludicrous, yes, but keep that in mind before you give too much merit to the next set of rankings you read.

— beth triplett

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