Buffalo-based publication Business First published its annual list of school rankings on Oct. 27, this time including schools across New York state. Liverpool ranked 85th overall among upstate schools according to the study, and North Syracuse placed 133rd.
Other area school districts with notable rankings were Fayetteville-Manlius, which was rated second in the state; Skaneateles, which ranked fifth; and Cazenovia, which was rated ninth. Syracuse, meanwhile, came in second to last, placing just ahead of Rochester at 430th.
The study used raw data from the New York State Education Department to rank 431 school districts in 48 New York counties north of the 42nd parallel. Each district was ranked based on its students’ annual performance on 21 Regents exams and state assessment tests from 2007 to 2010, as well as the percentage of students who earned Regents diplomas. Special weight was given to diplomas with advanced designations, and the formula considered the percentage of students who achieved high marks on the Regents exams.
“The state applies the same standards to every school, whether rich or poor, urban or rural, it’s all the same,” said G. Scott Thomas, projects editor for Business First, who compiled the rankings. “So we apply the same tests to everyone exactly as the state does.”
Thomas said the publication has been compiling the rankings in Western New York for the last 20 years. This is the first time it has expanded beyond that 16-county region.
“It was at the urging of educators here,” Thomas said. “They wanted to know how their schools compare to the rest of the state.”
Thomas said he expected that Business First would continue to examine the larger sampling in the future.
“We got a really good response from people outside of our core area,” he said. “We originally covered 16 counties in the western part of the state, and the rankings were very well-received, but we got a good response from the Syracuse area, as well as the Albany area, Binghamton and especially the North Country. We’ll continue and elaborate as the years go by.”
In addition to the basic rankings, the districts were also ranked by subject: English/foreign languages, science, social studies and math. These ratings were based on the test scores in those subjects from fourth grade through high school. Liverpool placed 147th in English/foreign languages, 104th in science, 93rd in social studies and 94th in math.
North Syracuse, meanwhile, placed 81st in English/foreign languages, 107th in science, 140th in social studies and 185th in math.
Thomas said the ranking system is completely unbiased, as it only examines test scores, though it would be fair to say that the economics of a district can’t be completely discounted when it comes to those scores.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “People who want to discredit what we’re doing always bring up the issue of socioeconomics and the fact that wealthier school districts tend to place higher on the list. But what we’re doing is taking standardized tests and just looking at the results. It’s a very standard scale. Certainly, economics and education are connected, but that’s a broader issue for society to face; it’s not something that skews our study.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.