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OP-ED: More than one excellent high school from which to choose
December 31, 2013, 05:00 AM By Rod Hsiao

Rod Hsiao

While many of us are slipping into holiday vacation mode, other families with rising high school freshmen anxiously await Jan. 8 when they can begin enrolling in San Mateo Union high schools for next fall.
Last year, pressure was intense among tiger moms and dads to get their kids into Mills High School in Millbrae. When Asian-American students were denied enrollment in the school, charges of discrimination were leveled at the district which resulted in a federal civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Education. In April, the investigators cleared the district of any discrimination. No surprise there: The Asian-American resident population in the city of Millbrae is 43 percent, and the Asian-American student population at Mills is even higher at 53 percent. So if anything, there was a disproportionate high representation of Asian-Americans at Mills.
But what drives this intense competition to get into Mills? Parents often point to the Academic Performance Index (API) score, one of the few yardsticks that can be used to compare schools. But one might ask if this is the right metric to use to size up a school? Does the API really reflect the best school for their student?
The good news is that students in the San Mateo Union High School District have many excellent choices to pick from whether you use the API or other metrics.
First of all, if you really want to rely on API scores to decide, in the most recent school year 2012013, Burlingame actually tied with Mills High School at 868, and Aragon was not far behind at 845.
But if one were to ask which school best prepares my child to do college-level work you might look at the University of California writing requirement results which ensures that students can communicate and form critical arguments. Eighty percent of graduates from Burlingame, Aragon and Hillsdale high schools that entered a UC school met the requirement, and Mills was respectable at 75 percent but still came in last among the district’s comprehensive high schools.
Also consider how many students took Advanced Placement tests and their pass rates to get college credit. Aragon, Burlingame and San Mateo high schools all had a higher percentage of their students taking AP tests, about 30 percent, while Mills was 26 percent. If you care about science and math pass rates, Aragon and Burlingame had higher pass rates than Mills in biology and calculus, while Mills led in chemistry and physics B.
There’s no doubt that Mills is a fine high school. But in the spirit of lowering the excessive pressure to get into this one school, parents should realize that there are other schools with extraordinary teachers and student bodies that should warrant a closer look for their students. You have excellent schools from which to choose so have another cup of cocoa and relax!

Rod Hsiao is a member of the San Mateo County Board of Education. He lives in San Mateo.



Tags: school, mills, schools, students, percent, mateo,

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