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Scarsdale's Rank Drops on Newsweek's Best HS List

Despite Scarsdale's reputation for superb academics, Newsweek ranked SHS at 1,011on its list of best high schools in the country.

Newsweek's annual list of America's top 100 public high schools was released this week, with Scarsdale High School coming in at 1,011, behind other nearby school districts.

Despite Scarsdale's reputation for a top-notch education, SHS's status continues to drop on the list, plummeting between 2006 and 2009 from 187 to 748.

Other area schools recognized for their high-achieving students and rigorous curriculum placed much higher, including Rye, Bronxville, and Harrison, which all made the top 100. Nearby Edgemont came in at 102.

Scarsdale's low ranking though, is based in Newsweek's methodology, and does a disservice to other necessary components of a well-rounded education, say local critics.

Newsweek divides the number of a school's seniors who sit for Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge exams by the total number of students in the graduating class.

In Scarsdale, 40 percent of seniors met this standard, according to Newsweek.

Number one on the list was Talented and Gifted, a magnet school in Dallas, where all of the school's 48 graduating seniors passed AP exams and sat for a total of 717 tests in 2009.

Like Talented and Gifted's students though, SHS seniors go on to attend some of the most prestigious and competitive colleges in the country.

SHS's ranking has consistently fallen on Newsweek's list, despite continually boasting some of the most high-achieving students in the county. Between 2006 and 2009, SHS dropped from 187 to 748.

The most severe drop in the ranking was directly correlated with the implementation of Advanced Topics (AT) courses in 2007.

Superintendent Dr. Michael McGill said that the switch to AT was encouraged by teachers who "were finding that focusing on AP tests caused curriculums in many courses to become overly broad and therefore shallow."

Joining ranks with elite private schools like Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Riverdale, Scarsdale implemented AT courses to help students "develop deep understanding of academic subjects and to foster the critical and creative thinking needed to solve complex problems," McGill said.

He noted that many Scarsdale students choose to take AP exams to receive early college credits. Their scores are "at the same high levels as in the past."

Scarsdale students' college admission rates also haven't suffered since the implementation of AT courses. According to McGill, about 70 percent of students are accepted into colleges that are rated "most" or "highly" competitive. About half of students get into the nation's most competitive schools.

While Scarsdale's low ranking indicates that the Newsweek list doesn't always reflect a school's ability to prepare students for the world ahead, Jay Matthews, a contributing writer to the Newsweek list, explained in a FAQ that the list is meant to initiate discussions on the dismal state of American education.

He noted that only six percent of the nations public schools--about 1,620--met the criteria to be on the list, which he views as a major indicator of America's flawed education system.

The only criteria was the total number of a school's graduating seniors couldn't exceed the number of AP, IB, or Cambridge tests administered last year.

Critics say that Newsweek's simplistic ranking methodology doesn't take into consideration other aspects of academic achievement in high schools, like the deeper knowledge and understanding sought through Scarsdale's AT courses, but Matthews defends the easy math, saying that because more people are able to understand the method, more public discourse will occur.

For about 25,000 public high schools in the U.S. not to offer any advanced courses and testing, Matthews wrote, "is like insisting that a child learn to ride a bike without ever taking off the training wheels. It is dumb, and in my view a form of educational malpractice."

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