U.S. News and World Report recently assessed and ranked the "Best U.S. High Schools," including those in the Twin Ports. While many in the area may hold these rankings in high esteem, it is imperative to dig deeper and to not take them at face value.

These rankings are not comprehensive in nature and only take into consideration six factors, mostly associated with standardized state assessments. This takes a fairly narrow view of education as a whole and doesn't consider all the educational choices found in our own community. Independent educational opportunities in the Twin Ports were not included in the U.S. News rankings.

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Related contentMany independent schools do not administer state exams, such as the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment, or MCA; therefore, they are not included in U.S. News and World Report rankings. The ranking system the publication uses calculates math and reading proficiency, compiling data solely from state examinations.

At Marshall School, we use other measures to assess proficiency in these areas, believing the MCA exams deprive students of instructional time. Using these other measures, including PACT and ACT testing, Marshall is able to calculate student proficiency in math and reading. Imputing this data allows us to approximate our ranking for internal purposes. The comparison is imperfect; yet each year our own estimates enable us to conclude that we would be deemed a "Gold Medal" school if U.S. News and World Report were to rank us.

Our smaller size and independence allow us to measure student progress, student engagement, and student achievement in many ways. The Twin Ports can be confident it has a school in Marshall that ranks among the very best in Minnesota.

In fact, we seek to compare ourselves to the best schools in the country. A few years ago, we garnered national attention for our focus on student engagement and were recognized as a model school. This year, our 78 graduates already have earned well over $7 million in college scholarships, reflecting that colleges understand our relative strength.

Of course, rankings and metrics are not the only ways to measure success in schools. This spring, the Whiteside Scholarship Fund presented local students with scholarships, and those students - from Denfeld, Marshall, and East - all had a chance to speak about their preparation and aspirations. The remarks were heartfelt, and the students expressed sincere appreciation for the mentoring and preparation they received in our area schools.

Providing all area students with a first-class education must be a shared priority; and, of course, Duluth schools must always strive for excellence. The community, however, should draw fully informed conclusions about the relative strengths of schools when assessing Twin Ports educational options.

Kevin Breen is head of school at Marshall School in Duluth and is president of the Minnesota Association of Independent Schools.