Three weeks after a controversial U.S. News & World Report ranking sent shockwaves throughout the Rockville Centre school community, South Side High School was recognized by The Washington Post for having one of the most challenging curriculums in the country.
On May 5, The Post revealed its annual “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” list, which determines how successfully schools challenge their students. South Side was listed 165th out of over 2,300 high school throughout the country with an index score of 5.339.
The score, which was based off 2016 data, was the fifth-highest on Long Island and eighth-best in New York state.
“On one level, I guess any recognition on a national ranking has a certain value,” said South Side Principal John Murphy. “It’s nice to have a receptive audience.”
But Murphy said he is keeping the list “at arm’s length” due to the varying amounts of enrolled students and curriculums provided by the other ranked schools.
“The first 110 schools on the list are either private, magnet or testing schools,” he said. “The first two schools have graduating classes of less than 20 students. It’s not a list of comprehensive local high schools.”
Magnet schools, according to familyeducation.com, typically offer a unified curriculum based on a special theme or method of instruction. They attract more motivated students, which leads to a safer, more orderly environment conducive to learning.
The newspaper determines the final index score by taking the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year and dividing that by the number of seniors who graduated that year. A ratio of 1.000 means the school had as many tests as graduates.
The Post noted South Side having an enrollment of 1,064 students, with a 98 percent graduation rate and 78 percent going to on attend a four-year college. The school provides three AP courses and 26 I.B. classes.
South Side failed to make U.S. News’s 2017 list of the 200 best high schools in the nation, despite having been No. 109 last year. It was ranked 145th in New York state and 1,666th in the country. In an odd twist, South Side did not appear in the 2015 national rankings after consistently appearing high on the list in previous years, including 47th in 2008 and 22nd in 2012.
District Superintendent Dr. William Johnson said that U.S. News did not have critical data that could have moved South Side higher on the list, and he faulted the I.B. program for its lack of communication. Johnson and South Side principal John Murphy calculated that if the I.B. had supplied its data to U.S. News, the school would have ranked around 19th in the state and 100th nationally.
In August, South Side was one of eight high schools in the country to receive Gold recognition as a School of Opportunity from the National Education Policy Center last September, which led to a feature story in The Washington Post three months later. It was also named among the top 100 high schools in New York state by Niche.com.
For its part, the NEPC, in announcing its School of Opportunity winners, singled out South Side for the creation and maintenance of a healthy school culture, broadening and enriching school curriculum, the variety of assessments used to respond to student needs, and exemplary professional development, all of which, the agency said, were evidence of the school’s commitment to equity and excellence for all. The selection committee said it was especially impressed by the fact that all South Side students complete at least one I.B. class.