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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 22, 2010

Website ranks schools across nation

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — How does the quality of education at Berne-Knox-Westerlo compare to other New York school districts? Berne-Knox-Westerlo residents in the midst of a budget debate last week cited www.SchoolDigger.com, a website that ranks BKW in the bottom percentile, statewide.

In an e-mail, Bruce Hammond of SchoolDigger.com elaborated on the website’s system for ranking schools.

“We just updated the New York test scores used for our rankings last week,” Hammond wrote. “For elementary and middle schools, we use the New York State assessments for English language arts and mathematics for the 2008-09 school year, which is the most recent available. For high schools, we use 2008-09 Regents English and integrated algebra test scores.”

But BKW’s ranking on this website — 577 out of 668 — is based only on the elementary school; the middle-high school “is not in the ranking because the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) labels it as an ‘other/alternative’ school,’” Hammond wrote; it falls into this category because it houses grades 6 through 12. If the middle-high school taught grades 7 through 12 instead, it would then be rated individually by SchoolDigger.com.

“Many schools labeled ‘other/alternative’ serve students with disabilities,” Hammond went on, “and including them in the rankings proved to be unfair.” About a fifth of BKW students are labeled as needing special education.

The website’s frequently-asked-questions page tells how these scores are used to rank the schools.

“We take the average math score across all the grades, and the average English score across all the grades, and add them together to make a combined score,” the site reads. “That combined score is then sorted. The highest combined score is ranked number 1, the second-highest number 2, and so on.”

By this method, the elementary school earns BKW a ranking of 577 out of 668 districts, according to the website, putting it in the bottom 14 percent; the elementary school, among all other public elementary schools in New York State, is ranked 1,513 of 2,283.

In contrast to SchoolDigger.com, the State Education Department amasses information on schools across New York in its annual Report Cards, which compare only schools of similar sizes and socio-economic makeup.

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