GDS Tops Sidwell in New Rankings, Arousing School Pride

Graphic by Reid Alexander.

GDS took the title for the best high school in the D.C. area in a 2022 list released last month by the rankings website Niche. The announcement has reinvigorated GDS’ rivalry with Sidwell Friends School, which was ranked first for at least the past two years but now holds the runner-up spot.

GDS also ranked as the 27th best high school nationally, down three spots from Niche’s 2021 rankings. The D.C.-area list ranked Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia, third. The all-girls National Cathedral School followed in fourth place.

Director of High School Admissions Amanda Deringer said that GDS’ Niche ranking might help attract new students. “Once information gets out on the Internet,” she said, “it’s easy for students and parents to do a quick search and see what the top high schools are.”

Niche appears on Google as one of the most prominent results for D.C. high school rankings. The company’s 2022 list also garnered coverage in local news outlets, such as the WTOP radio station and Washingtonian magazine.

Some GDS students have used the new rankings as an opportunity to lightheartedly bash their rival school. “GDS is significantly better than Sidwell,” senior Leah Fitzpayne told the Bit. She cited the quality of GDS’ academics and teachers’ care for their students as characteristics that make the school stand out.

Principal Katie Gibson said she was excited about GDS’ new ranking but stopped short of endorsing Niche’s list. “I don’t pay a ton of attention to them,” she said of the rankings. “Lots of people sent it to me and were like ‘congratulations.’ It’s lovely, but in all honesty it’s not a huge deal to me.

“I don’t think that any of the schools in the D.C. area are better or worse than the others,” Gibson continued. “It’s really about which school’s vibe matches you.” 

Niche is a Pittsburgh-based company that ranks high schools and colleges, among other things. It uses data collected from the U.S. Department of Education, its National Center for Education Statistics and Niche survey respondents to calculate (through a multi-step statistical process) schools’ letter grades in six categories: academics, teachers, clubs and activities, diversity, college prep and sports. 

GDS was given an A+ for every category but diversity and sports, which each received an A. Sidwell had the same grades except for its B+ in sports, down from an A in the 2021 rankings. Gibson suggested GDS’ top spot this year could have resulted from the school’s improving athletics program.

A large portion of Niche’s data comes from voluntary survey responses and ratings from students, parents, teachers and alumni who submit forms on Niche’s website or choose to share their standardized test scores or colleges. Respondents’ identities are not verified, meaning the results’ authenticity cannot be confirmed.

Someone who completed Niche’s survey this month as an anonymous GDS junior wrote on the website that “the inclusivity and community aspect that Georgetown Day prides itself on really lives up to the expectation.” 

GDS students have been celebrating their school’s victory in a variety of ways. Last week, members of the varsity volleyball team sent poems in all-school emails to encourage students to attend their game against Sidwell. 

One poem by senior Pallavi Bhargava, a captain of the team, promised to “keep the Foxes on a leash” and “crush the 2nd best school according to Niche.” Photos from the game showed GDS students holding signs reading “GDS is #1” and “Midwell is #2,” using a pejorative nickname some GDS students have adopted to suggest Sidwell is mediocre. 

When asked her thoughts on GDS students’ jokes about Sidwell, Gibson laughed and said that “a little fun banter between two competitor schools is a natural part of the high school experience.” 

Many students at GDS, such as sophomore Cole Huh, have taken part in that banter with friends who attend Sidwell.

“While it is nice to rag on my Sidwell friends, I don’t think the ranking matters that much,” Huh said. “At the end of the day, it’s just a number. Sidwell is also a good school—although GDS might be slightly better.”

Sidwell sophomore Anya Capoor rushed to defend her school’s reputation in an interview with the Bit, calling the rankings “fake news.” 

She argued that Niche’s data is inaccurate because the website lists Sidwell’s tuition as $39,360, but in fact it is $48,050 for the high school. “And Niche says that GDS has better sports than Sidwell, so we can’t trust anything it says,” Capoor added.

Schools’ overall grades on Niche are determined by a weighted average of their scores for a series of specific criteria—different from the publicly evaluated categories—including college enrollment and student-teacher ratio, according to a Niche webpage about the company’s methodology. The most important factor is the Niche ranking of the colleges students go on to attend, which accounts for 28.5 percent of the grade. 

“I personally don’t think that schools should be in any way ranked,” Deringer said. “The ranking system is deeply flawed and based on things that aren’t important.” 

While the new rankings have sparked increased school pride, Gibson agreed that Niche’s rankings carry limited meaning and “change with the blowing of the wind.”