Feeney faults HS ratings at EW board meeting

Andrew Benjamin

Wheatley School principal Sean Feeney delivered a detailed critique at Tuesday night’s East Williston School Board meeting of recently release high school rankings by U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek and the Washington Post.

Wheatley’s ranking in U.S. News and World Report nationally came in at 246, 40th in the state and 13th on Long Island. Newsweek’s put the school at 62nd nationally, 9th in the state and 4th on the island. The Washington Post’s Challenge Index placed the school at 117th nationally, 7th in the state and 3rd on the island. 

Feeny said his purpose was to look “at some problems” with these ranking and to examine “rankings in general.”

The U.S. News and World report based their data on English and math state tests and compared them to students in other schools in the state along with the performance of low-income and minority students on tests. Schools are also evaluated on college readiness based on number of students taking AP and IB exams.

“We were surprised at the relative ranking here on Long Island as well as the absolute state rankings,” Feeny said.

He said that while it is good that the magazine looks at a variety of states,  “re[lying] solely on public data” does it have its problems.

U.S. News & World’s reported findings put Wheatley’s AP participation rate – the percentage of seniors who took at least one AP exam –  at 75 percent. The AP exam pass rate, which is the percentage of AP exams taken that were passed, was reported at 55 percent.  The percentage of seniors who passed at least one AP exam was 51 percent. The college readiness index was 56.7 percent.

Feeny said that the AP participation rate percentage was correct, but the other three categories were wrong. Feeney said Wheatley’s actual data showed 78 AP exams taken, 63 percent passed and 66 percent passing one exam each, which would have resulted in being ranked at 146.

“Sadly we have a lot of errors in our public data,” Feeny said.

Newsweek’s rankings not only look at AP/IB and SAT scores, but also graduation rate and percent of graduates accepted into college. Feeny said one of the shortcomings of the magazine’s data is its reliance on SAT/ACT scores.

“We are not a school that has a course dedicated to preparing students for the SAT and ACT exam,” Feeny said. “Our belief is that it comes with a good education.”

The last ranking Feeney scrutinized, Washington Post’s Challenge Index, is calculated by education writer Jay Matthews. Matthews. His ranking relies on the ratio of two pieces of data: total number of AP/IB exams given divided by the size of the graduating class.

Feeney said that while finding the data is “simple,” it doesn’t take into account student performance on those tests.

“Nothing else is evaluated,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how you do. Every single student could fail those exam because it doesn’t take into account performance.”

In 1998, Wheatley made the top of the list in the index. Since then it hasn’t been in the top 10.

Feeny concluded his presentation with a comparison to the state’s new teacher assessment system.

“Look at the errors with trying to rank a school,” he said. “Imagine when we’re trying to rank a teacher and come up with sort of teacher effectiveness value and what variables matter when you’re measuring teacher effectiveness. How do you weigh each of those values?”

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Andrew Benjamin

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