High School Report Card
SATs, RaMPs, PhDs... We give you all the stats, info, and explanation you need to evaluate your local high school.
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For those able to dig deeper, SAT tutoring is de rigueur. One of the leading services (and it is a minor industry), Kaplan, Inc., offers a range of options in Westchester from a self-study course for $400 to 32 hours of private tutoring for $4,700. For re-testers, Kaplan guarantees an improvement in the student’s score. Tutoring works, too, according to a 2006 nationwide study by Ohio State University, which showed that students who took private SAT prep classes averaged total scores 60 points higher than those who didn’t take those classes.
Nevertheless, the schools with the highest SAT total scores this year were Scarsdale (1950), Bronxville (1889), Pleasantville (1876), Horace Greeley (1872), and Edgemont (1809).
One measure that overcomes the SAT problem of testing mostly college-bound students is the RaMP Rate, or the Reading and Math Proficiency score as calculated by Standard & Poor using Regents exam data provided by the NYS Department of Education. Every student in the state is required to take the exam, which is a product of the No Child Left Behind Act. The scores reported here are the average of the proficiency rates achieved across all reading and math tests. Since every student has to take them, it seems like it would be a more accurate reflection of how well a school teaches all, not just its college bound, students. Perhaps. However, the RaMP Rate still has a socioeconomic bias: in general, kids from upper-income homes score better than those less well off. Why? “If you look at almost any standardized test, there is a high correlation between performance on the test and household income,” explains Dr. Saul M. Yanofsky, assistant dean of Academic Affairs at Westchester Community College. Thus, it should come as no surprise that 97 percent of students in Scarsdale, where 81 percent of their parents earn more than $100,000 a year, passed the tests, while 80 percent of students in New Rochelle, where only 35 percent of families earn that kind of money, did.
Four-Year Graduation Rate
In general, Westchester schools don’t experience high dropout rates. One thing this tells us, according to Dr. Joseph Harris, director of the National High School Center, is that our schools do a decent job of keeping students interested in their school careers. “Engagement gets translated a lot of different ways,” Harris says. “First is the graduation rate, the relationship between the number of students entering ninth grade, then graduating four years later.” And nearly all of those who enter high school as freshmen in Westchester graduate four years later. Compared to the national dropout rate—three of 10 students who enter as freshmen fail to graduate four years later, according to the NHSC—Westchester’s 9 percent is miniscule.
Of the county’s 44 public high schools, six schools (Briarcliff, Blind Brook, Bronxville, Edgmont, Pleasantville, and Valhalla) had perfect (100 percent) four-year graduation rates. Only 9 had graduation rates under 90 percent: Elmsford (87), New Rochelle (78), Ossining (78), Peekskill (73), Port Chester (69), Sleepy Hollow (82), White Plains (84), Yonkers’s Lincoln (83) and Yonkers’s Roosevelt (67).
Yes, credit goes to the schools for doing such a good job of engaging their students. But, of course, it’s easier to engage students who speak English fluently, whose parents can help with homework because they have college degrees, and kids who don’t have to work after school. Indeed, studies show that the better off the parents in a certain community are, the higher the graduation rate. For example, a study by The Mortenson Seminar on Public Policy Analysis found that more than 90 percent of students from the top two income quartiles graduate from high school, compared to 65 percent of those from the bottom quartile. This gap has barely changed for 35 years. It also points out that a child from a family in the top income quartile is five times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24 than is a child from the bottom income quartile.
“Let me tell you about all the kids who are eligible to graduate this year,” says Sleepy Hollow High’s Principal Carol Conklin, “including those who will get an equivalency diploma, or including those who hung in here for five or six years so they could learn enough English to pass. Of all those kids, we have a ninety-four-percent graduation rate, not the eight-two percent you see in your chart.”
Most of us look at test scores and graduation rates to assess a school’s performance. We often ignore what happens outside the classroom. That, says White Plains Schools Superintendent Dr. Timothy Connors, is a mistake. “You’re leaving out the programs in schools that get the students engaged—athletics, after-school programs, the overall climate of a school that makes for a safe and productive learning environment.”
And perhaps even better grades. One study completed in 2006 by Susan A. Dumais of Louisiana State University, found a direct correlation between joining the student government and student academic clubs and higher math grades. (It also found that reading for pleasure upped students’ test scores. However, hanging out, driving around, talking on the phone, and watching television did the opposite.)
Lois Winkler, president of the Westchester/Putnam School Boards Association, advises that if you really want to know how well your high school engages its students, stop by at the end of the day—after classes are over—and see how many kids are still there. Not hanging around waiting for a ride to the mall, but participating in an extra-curricular activity of some sort. As Winkler says, “How many students are participating in things other than academics? Sports, clubs, drama, forensics? That’s addressing the whole student. If there is a high participation rate, that’s telling you something about the school. If the kids are just leaving as soon as school’s done, that tells you something, too.”
Yonkers High School Principal Ralph Vigliotti points out that high participation tells you something about the teaching staff of a school, too. “They’re committed to the kids,” he says.
We asked schools to tell us what percentage of students participated in both athletic and non-athletic extracurricular activities. Somers had the greatest participation rate in non-athletic activities (95 percent), with Edgemont (92 percent) and Briarcliff (90 percent) in the same range.