Rockville Centre’s South Side High School 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.
But U.S. News & World Report saw things differently this year, according to its annual rankings.
South Side failed to make the magazine’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 International Baccalaureate program for its lack of communication.
“We know that there was no release of I.B. data by the I.B. organization, so [U.S. News] didn’t have that information to work from,” Johnson said. “We’re still trying to figure out the reason why, but the I.B.’s initial response to us was that there were concerns about the safety of the information or the privacy of the information. There were concerns about it, and they did not want to release it to U.S. News & World Report, but never told us about it.”
Johnson said that the rankings would not change the district’s approach to teaching students. “Rankings are always interesting to look at,” he said, “but it doesn’t change our commitment to getting kids prepared for college, and the most important information is the information we get back from kids who have gone off to college … about the degree to which they are either successful or not.”
International Baccalaureate officials said that “due to a decreased number of schools providing this voluntary information, and a high overall rate of missing information, the I.B. did not supply data this year because of I.B.’s concerns about the accuracy of the data that it would be providing U.S. News.”
The statement was of little solace to South Side Principal John Murphy. “The point of frustration is that every other year, we’re having an issue,” he said. “In 2015, U.S. News dropped the ball because they misused the data. This draws light on the lack of credibility that these measures have. No school goes up and down like that. Every year is something different.”
Johnson and 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.
Mindy Roman’s daughter, Cindy, is graduating from South Side in June, and her youngest daughter, Zoe, is a junior there. She said she did not take the rankings seriously.
“It doesn’t change my opinion and it shouldn’t change anyone else’s,” Roman said. “I don’t think this is a reflection of South Side at all. I’ve only seen improvement over the years. Our kids are incredibly well prepared for college. I know this personally. It’s a meaningless and artificial rubric.”
This year, U.S. News teamed with North Carolina-based RTI International, a nonprofit social science research firm, to rank the high schools. 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. Their 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 takes a traditional approach to classroom learning, but offers students an opportunity to excel via honors, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate options,” U.S. News said on its website. “Students at South Side High School can explore student groups such as the engineering club and the military history club. Many South Side High graduates receive the New York State Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation, and students can earn college credit for some courses through Long Island University.”
For its part, the National Education Policy Center, 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 NEPC said, were evidence of the school’s commitment to equity and excellence for all. The agency’s selection committee said it was especially impressed by the fact that all South Side students complete at least one I.B. class.