Once again, Westchester Magazine presents its annual data chart on our county’s public high schools. Each year, we send out a survey to our local high schools, and they—well, most of them (12 schools did not respond; see page 90)—complete and return it. The survey strives to quantify some key factors that can help evaluate a school’s performance. It’s important to note that money influences many of these measurements; the wealthier the community, the better educated and equipped its residents are to help their kids.
It’s also important to note that numbers do not tell a complete story. They’re only a start.
Of course, it’s important to know what story the numbers do tell (partial or not). Below we list the measurements on our data chart and tell you why they matter.
Median Household Income:
The socioeconomic conditions of students’ households and the school’s community not only dictate the resources ultimately available to the school, but also influence students’ performance.
Gross Per-Pupil Expenditures:
A base indicator of how many resources are being devoted to each student.
Mean SAT Scores:
One of the most frequently used criteria for judging a school’s success is its students’ performance on the SAT (formerly the “Scholastic Assessment Test”), a popular standardized college admissions test.
Teachers with MA or PhD:
Pre-sumably, the better educated a teacher is, the more knowledge he/she can impart.
Average Class Size:
The smaller, studies show, the better.
Guidance Counselor-to-Student Ratio:
The fewer students per guidance counselor, the better.
Percentage of students taking AP/college-level courses:
AP (Advanced Placement) classes are challenging; one way to judge how well a school engages its students is by how well it challenges them.
Students in Extracurricular Programs:
Some studies have shown a direct correlation between involvement in extracurricular activities and higher grades.
Four-Year Graduation Rate:
The greater number of entering freshmen who graduate in a timely four years (as opposed to five or more, or not at all) can indicate that a school has kept its students engaged and involved.
Why Some Schools Did Not Participate
Twelve schools did not respond to our request for data. Why not? We received this letter from the superintendents of the Putnam/Northern Westchester School Districts, which, for space reasons, we edited:
As superintendents of schools representing the Chief School Administrators of the Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES, we wish to share with you the reason that we have declined to provide Westchester Magazine with the data requested. Although we represent districts primarily reflecting homogenous student populations, we value excellence, equity, and social justice as moral imperatives.
In Westchester Magazine, the tables and charts published annually provide the public with a very limited—and, some would suggest, flawed—comparison of districts, many of which possess extremely disparate needs. The tables and charts comparing, contrasting, ranking, and sorting districts offer the public facts that can be misconstrued without the advantage of the complete picture.
Oftentimes, SAT scores and “on-time” four-year graduation rates serve as metrics. A few of our districts proudly educate children of recent immigrants learning English for the first time. Comparative data for such districts may differ from districts without such international student populations. Yet, often recent arrivals to the United States, our immigrant students graduate—sometimes after five or six years in high school—enter college, and graduate from universities successfully. Regrettably, the comparative data here do not reflect such successes.
Additionally, we are aware the providers of the requested survey data often use alternative interpretations of the survey request, thus leading to comparing dissimilar data sets. The “self-reporting” by individual districts, although well-meaning with integrity, often provides Westchester Magazine with discrepancies in interpretation leading to false comparisons.
Editors’ Response: We have similar concerns, which is why we have gone out of our way to be sensitive, very sensitive, to different school districts and to celebrate diversity. And all of this is true not just of our educational stories, but of all our editorial coverage. We would love to have one source for all the date but, alas, it does not exist. In our annual high schools data chart, we do not rank the schools. We provide public information—something that everyone, we believe, has a right to.