There are a number of lists that rank high schools in an attempt to measure quality. Each has its own set of metrics—that is, those factors that the creator of the list values. Those metrics often change from year to year, thus leading to greater confusion. In addition, a miniscule difference of hundredths of a point often separates one school from the next.
The good news is that the performance of South Side High School students has never been better. In fact, the high school continues to improve on measures that matter. Here are the facts…
- Our Regents diploma rate during the past five years has increased to 99%.
- Our IB Diploma rate has increased as well. In 2010 and 2011, 30% of the entire graduating class graduated with an IB Diploma. In 2012, it went up to 34%. All three of these percentages are truly outstanding.
- The percentage of IB scores that are 4 or better is on the increase as well. In 2010, 70% of the scores were 4 or better. In 2011, it was 76%. Last year it rose again, to 77%.
Why then, might the school’s rating on a list go down, even though our students are becoming more successful?
In order to answer that question, we need to look at the lists themselves.
US News and World Report
This list first screens schools based on performance on Math and English Regents exams. It then ranks schools based on participation and performance on either IB or AP exams, whichever is the bigger program. In the case of South Side High School, it is the IB program. US News obtains the data from outside sources. Looking at the 2011 metric, it appears that US News used the exams and scores of IB students in 11th and 12th grade and divided that number by the number of students in the graduating class of 2010. This year, it appears they used only the tests and scores accrued by graduating seniors of the Class of 2011. That change in the metric resulted in our ranking going down, even though the percentage of students scoring a 4 or better increased by 6 percentage points, and participation rates remained stable.
It is also important to keep in mind that most of the schools at the top of the list are test-in schools. These are schools that enroll students based on their performance on a test , such as Bronx Science and Stuyvesant High Schools. Others are charter schools, which also may screen students, and insist that all students take AP and or IB exams in Grades 9-12. South Side High School is an open-enrollment school, which means that every student who lives in the district is admitted and welcomed at any time in the school year.
This list began a few years ago. (The original Newsweek list moved to the Washington Post). First, it is based on self-reported data. Second, this new list rewards factors that value elitism and limited access to IB/AP courses. For example, average SAT scores are included in the measure (10%). Schools such as ours that do a great job encouraging all students to take the SAT are disadvantaged when compared to schools that do not promote college entrance tests for all students. It also does not use the scores of the school’s larger program—it averages the IB and AP exam scores evenly, even though we have far fewer students who take AP. IB schools are disadvantaged in the process. We expressed our concerns to the DailyBeast, and we hope that at least this aspect of the list will be addressed. This list also includes the exclusive test-in schools as well.
This is the original list of rankings, formerly called the Newsweek Top 100. This list, using self-reported data, simply ranks schools on the number of IB and AP tests taken by students. It does not include how students do on the exams. We continue to have outstanding numbers on this metric, however, the number of charter schools and test-in in schools continues to increase in urban areas, filling in the top positions. We “fall in ranking” not because South Siders are taking fewer exams, but because schools such as these continue to come into existence.
South Side High School eliminated student ranking more than a decade ago, in large part because it pits one student against another, and sends the message that the success of one comes at the expense of their classmates. Our success, and the success of our children, does not come at the expense of others. Each year, South Side continues to feature prominently on these lists, but our position varies due to factors that are either beyond our control or represent values that we do not encourage, such as restricted access to educational resources. Our students continue to thrive and succeed while they are here and after graduation. We appreciate the recognition we receive when outside agencies evaluate our work, but must also be wary of the metrics or criteria being used, especially when they run counter to the values and mission statement of the district and its leadership. Perhaps, some day there will be a metric that rewards excellence and equity, participation in extracurricular activities, and the social and emotional health of students. That would be a wonderful list to be on indeed!