October 24, 2021

The grades are in for 2020

Magazine issues its annual rankings of nation’s best high schools

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Jackson George, left, and Cooper George get milk Thursday from Pat Haravet outside Parker School in Cortland. They won’t need to see the inside of a school until September, but when they get to high school, it will be one of the better schools in America, reports U.S. News & World Report.


A time for flowers to bloom, warm weather to arrive and fore people to enjoy the outdoors — in a coronavirus-friendly manner.

It also marks the time when US News & World Report publishes its Best High Schools rankings.

For the 2020 report, more than 17,000 high schools across the country, including 1,342 in New York, were ranked and given state and national rankings.

And this year, the best high schools in the greater Cortland area, in order, are Tully, Homer and Moravia.

“The Best High Schools rankings provide the most comprehensive, data-based information on nearly every public high school in the country,” Anita Narayan, the managing editor of education at U.S. News and World Report, said in a press release. “Families can use this information to see how their local schools compare on graduation rates and state assessments, as well as academic performance by students who are traditionally underserved – those who are black, Hispanic or from low-income households.”

“This ranking is a result of the hard work of our students, faculty, staff, and administration,” Robert J. Hughes, superintendent of the Tully Central School District, said in an email.

Tully, ranked 210th in New York, saw 36% of its students take an AP exam and 27% pass it. Its four-year graduation rate was 96%; 82% passed reading exams and 93% passed math exams.

Students are encouraged to take advantage of learning opportunities and challenge themselves by taking tougher courses than required, especially in math and science, Hughes said.

But Hughes said the score doesn’t provide a complete picture. School is more than just classes; students take part in sports and extracurricular activities.

“Many of our teachers serve as coaches or advisers,” he said. “As such, they are able to encourage students to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities, and they are able to help students see how athletics and extracurricular activities support and enhance academics.”

“Our goal is to ensure that each of our students has the best educational opportunities possible, which for a small school can be a challenge,” he said.

“Our goal is to ensure that when each of our students graduates, they have a realistic plan for what’s next, whether its college, joining one of the armed services, or going directly into the work force.”

Schools and their communities

“Most parents are interested in providing their children with the best education possible,” said Nabih “Neb” Hage, the principal broker at Hage Real Estate. “Therefore, school ranking can be a consideration in their decision making.”

Under state Department of State regulations, real estate agents or brokers cannot make recommendations about school systems, he said. Hage couldn’t say why, but speculated it may sway people to or away from specific districts.

He recommends that parents looking to buy homes speak with school district officials to determine whether the district is a right fit for their children.

“We are fortunate to have good school systems overall” in Cortland County, he said.

Garry VanGorder, the executive director for the Cortland County Business Development Corp. and Industrial Development Agency, said that rankings aren’t discussed specifically when attracting employers, but having good schools helps.

“It’s all part of a quality-of-life approach that we have: good schools, safe communities, affordable housing, vibrant downtowns, college community, four-season environment with proximity to major metros, etc.,” he said.

Targets for success

“I think the collective efforts of our staff are paying off and I attribute much of this success to the work behind the scenes with the teachers in the classroom working hard to serve all of our students,” Moravia Central School District Superintendent John P. Birmingham said in an email.

“Our energies are focused on the outcomes that are embedded in the performance targets of our adopted building-level strategic plan and we reassess each year to measure and redefine these as part of the continuous improvement model.”

One of these targets includes reducing student dropouts through hiring an attendance clerk to speak with families on why students may be absent frequently. The district has also developed a committee of school nurses, psychologists and counselors that looks at ways to intervene for students who may drop out even prior to high school.

These additions have helped decrease the dropout rate to 7% in 2019 from roughly 17% in 2015, district statistics show.

The district is also working on ways to better serve low-income students or need special education, he said.

“All in all, I am extremely proud of the hard work of our teachers, support staff and administration at Moravia High School and grateful to have a board of education that supports these collective initiatives … with the overall goal of providing our high school students with the best experiences possible,” Birmingham said.

How the rankings work

  • College readiness (30% of the ranking) — the proportion of 12th graders who took or passed Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams
  • College curriculum breadth (10% of the ranking) — the percentage based on the proportion of 12th graders in the 2017-18 school year who took and the percentage who passed multiple AP or IB exams.
  • Math and reading proficiency (20% of the ranking) — the state measure of students performance in subjects regarding math and reading
  • Math and reading performance (20% of the ranking) — The state and reading metrics, compared to what U.S. News & World Report predicted for schools with those demographic characteristics in the state
  • Underserved student performance (10% of the ranking) How black, Hispanic and low-income students scored on state assessments compared with the average for non-underserved students in the same state.
  • Graduation rate (10% of the ranking) — the proportion of students who entered as 9th graders during the 2013-14 school graduated by the 2017-18.

The score represents the national percentile ranking, so a school with a score of 75 performed in ranked higher than 75% of other schools.

U.S. News & World Report ranked 17,792 of America’s 24,000 high schools on a scale from zero to 100 based on six factors:

More than numbers

The rankings, while an insight to how schools may fare on paper, don’t provide the whole picture for the work that goes into teaching the students and the circumstances the school may be in, said Dryden Central School District Superintendent Joshua Bacigalup.

He pointed out that his high school’s low rankings for students taking at least one AP exam and passing at least one AP exam, 20% and 15%, respectively, is because the high school offers few Advanced Placement courses, he said.

In its place, many students take classes for college credit at Tompkins Cortland Community College.

“Our district and community has prioritized concurrent enrollment opportunities due to the close proximity of TC3 in our community and the large cost savings and versatility concurrent enrollment credits gives students in families in the SUNY system,” he said in an email.

He noted that 51% of the high school students take courses both at the high school and TC3 and an average of 77% of all seniors have earned college credits since 2008.

Cortland High School was in a similar position. Superintendent Michael J. Hoose said the school also focused on students taking college courses at TC3.

“Not only does this show that our students are taking our hardest courses but we are providing our students an opportunity to save on their college education,” Bacigalupi said.