Gurney's Inn
June 27, 2007

Rating Our High Schools For Excellence

The results are in and, for a third consecutive year, Mattituck and Westhampton Beach have finished on top of the pack in The Independent's annual analysis of standardized high school test scores on the East End.

We rated the high schools in our area based on how many students scored 85 or over on nine regents examinations. Shelter Island and Bridgehampton were excluded because the lower enrollment in these schools skew the data.

Most districts do not publicize these numbers, but instead use the percentage of students who scored the minimum passing grade or higher. These numbers can be misleading, however – a score of 90 means 10 percent of the students probably should be left back. Worse, many of the newspapers report the numbers as if they were grades, the clear implication being students are performing well. For the most part, they aren't.

The results reveal East End schools fare no more than average when compared to the 59 high schools in Suffolk County and oftentimes below average. Mattituck-Cutchogue, however, is a notable exception, and Westhampton Beach students also performed well above average.

The study reveals there is little correlation between cost-per-student and academic excellence. Mattituck-Cutchogue ranked third among the nine districts in lowest cost-per-student. Southampton and Sag Harbor (Pierson) spent more than all the others school districts but posted for the most part mediocre test scores. It should be noted that educators agree performance on standardized test scores is only one factor to be used when weighing the worth of a school.

James Mckenna, the Superintendent of Mattituck-Cutchogue, attributed his district's success to the work of the students and teachers but acknowledged, "I'm very cautious when dealing with statistics, but we have a good raw product to work with."

Here are the rankings, in order:

1) Mattituck/Cutchogue: The Tuckers finished either first or tied for first for the third consecutive year, and in the process proved you don't need to spend a fortune to achieve excellence. Mattituck is the third most efficient local district when comparing cost-per-student, yet excelled in the test data. Mckenna said cost-per-student isn't a factor with good students. "These kids are going to learn no matter what the obstacles are," he opined. "Money comes into play with the lower half – special ed kids and special needs students. You target the money where it is needed most."

In the Math B Regents, for example, Mattituck finished sixth best of 59 districts tested – 38 percent of those who took the test achieved a grade of 85 or over cracked the Top Ten in the Chemistry Regents as well. When compared to the other East End schools, Mattituck finished either first or second in eight of the nine categories.

2) Westhampton Beach: The Hurricanes did it with strong performances in seven of the exams, lagging behind in Earth Science and Math B. Westhampton Beach finished first among the local schools in the percentage of students scoring above 85 in the U.S. History regents, good for 14th overall in the county. A remarkable 73 percent of students' tests received a grade of 85 or higher on the U.S. History regents.

3) Southold: The Settlers have been charting upward, improving from sixth in 2005 to third this time around. Students scored best in the Global History, finishing first among the local schools and 15th overall in the county. Southold was the top local school in Physics, but only the 21st best among the 59 schools in the state. Southold students also did well in Earth Science.

4) Pierson: The Whalers have been midpack in all three years. They excelled in English, finishing first among the local districts and 11th overall. Pierson students also fared well on the Living Environment and Earth Science regents but need to improve in Math and particularly in Physics; only six other schools in Suffolk had a lower percentage of those tested score 85 or above – only 13 percent of those tested achieved mastery.

5) Greenport: For the most part, the Porters performed poorly on the test scores but improved their performance overall this year.

6) Southampton: The Mariners, which alongside the Sag Harbor (Pierson) school district is the most inefficient in terms of cost-per-student, is below average overall in the percentage of students who scored 85 or over in the nine regents tests given, though they came out on top among the local schools in the Math A Regents, and 14th in the county.

7) Hampton Bays: This district has the lowest cost per student among the nine local districts but mediocre test scores, though the Baymen earned a number one ranking among the East End schools in Chemistry. Hampton Bays had the seventh lowest mark in the county in the U.S. History category.

8) Riverhead: This school performed terribly on the standardized tests. The percentage of students scoring 85 or over on the regents were among the worst in Suffolk in English, Math A, Global History, and Living Environment.

9) East Hampton: The Bonackers have suffered a stunning fall from grace, bottoming out in both the Math A and B, Earth Science, and Chemistry. East Hampton did not excel in a single subject and finished mediocre or worse in every category, despite spending more per student than any district other than Southampton and Sag Harbor.

Raymond Gualtieri, the East Hampton District Superintendent, did not return calls for a comment.

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