South Side unranked on list of best public high schools

District: Key data not considered by U.S. News and World Report


South Side High School was not included on U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 list of the best public high schools, just two years after being ranked No. 15 in the state and 109th nationally.

“A number of people in the community have wondered why this happened, since little has changed at South Side High School,” Rockville Centre Schools Superintendent Dr. Willliam Johnson released in a statement last week, “and in fact, from a statistical point of view, the numbers that were used in 2016 have only improved.

Ninety-five percent of Rockville Centre middle-schoolers enter South Side having already passed the Algebra Regents, Johnson noted, which he said U.S. News and World Report did not consider. So, despite student performances on state assessments, and in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, being at “an all-time high,” he added, that omission made the school ineligible.

“The fact that we accelerate 100 percent of our kids in algebra explains a lot of our successes with every population, including our special-needs population, historically underrepresented students as well as our high achievers,” said South Side Principal John Murphy. “But the metric that they’re using does not accommodate that.”

U.S. News worked with North Carolina-based RTI International, a nonprofit social science research firm, to rank the high schools, according to its website. RTI implemented the magazine’s rankings methodology, which is based on two key principles: that a great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college-bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show it is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.

U.S. News and RTI looked at more than 20,000 public high schools across the country, using a four-step process to rank them. A student body’s performance on the math and reading parts of their state proficiency tests and their graduation rates were used as benchmarks, and the fourth step assessed the degree to which the best schools prepare students for college-level work.

South Side High School was among the top 50 public high schools in the nation in 2008 (47th) and 2012 (22nd).

It did not appear in the national rankings in 2015, but regained its high ranking in 2016. That same year, it was one of eight high schools in the country to earn gold recognition as a School of Opportunity from the National Education Policy Center.

The dip in the rankings last year, when the news outlet ranked South Side High School 145th in New York and 1,666th in the country, was due to the I.B. organization not releasing its data, school officials said.

“Schools don’t change that significantly and egregiously from year to year,” Murphy said, adding that South Side students have never been more successful. “I haven’t been a fan of the rankings when we were on the list, and it seems disingenuous when we’re not.”

Johnson noted that South Side students’ 86 percent participation rate in I.B. and 91 percent passing rate among those who participate are similar to the Long Island schools ranked highest on this year’s list. So is the rate of those who earn a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation, at 87 percent.

Johnson said he hopes rankings such as the U.S. News and World Report’s list do not become determinants of public policy, but simply serve as “artifactual” information.

“Rest assured our district will continue to make decisions based on the best interests of our students,” he added. “The education we provide to all children strongly reflects the values of our community and school district and prepares our children well to be lifelong learners.”