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Gary Rubinstein's Blog: Success Academy Games U.S. News & World Report Best High School Ranking

In the latest U.S. News & World Report Best High School Ranking 2023-2024, the Success Academy High School was ranked the 102nd best high school in the country and the 12th best high school in New York State.

Here is the list of the top 13 New York High schools on the list:

1 High School Math Science and Engineering at CCNY
2 Townsend Harris High School
3 Queens High School for the Sciences at York College
4 Stuyvesant High School
5 Staten Island Technical High School
6 Bronx High School of Science
7 High School of American Studies at Lehman College
8 Brooklyn Technical High School
9 Brooklyn Latin School
10 Eleanor Roosevelt High School
11 Manhattan/Hunter Science High School
12 Success Academy Charter School-Harlem 1
13 Jericho Senior High School

Over the years, U.S. News has tweaked the way they weigh certain categories, but the primary component has always been what they call the ‘College Readiness’ index, which counts for 30% of the overall score. The way the College Readiness index is calculated is that they take the percent of students at the school who took at least one AP test and that counts for 1/4 of that score while 3/4 of the score is the percent of students at the school who took and got at least a 3 on at least one AP test.

The AP test is graded out of 5 and colleges often give credit for a score of 3 or better. But this ranking does not do anything to distinguish between schools where students take multiple AP tests and where they get 4s and 5s on them. So a school that has 100% of the students take exactly one AP and they all get 3s on it would be ranked higher than a schools where 98% of the students take an average of four APs each and they get an average of a 4 on them. But still, the ranking system does seem to put schools where graduating students are successful in college nearer to the top of the list. In the New York list, the schools in the top 13 are mainly the specialized New York City high schools.

When you go to the top schools list, they feature three statistics on the main view: Graduation rate, college readiness, and enrollment. Enrollment isn’t part of the ranking calculation but Graduation Rate, which they define as the number of students who enter 9th grade and graduate 4 years later, is 10% of the ranking.

For all the schools in the top 80 in New York state, the second lowest graduation rate was 92%. The first lowest was Success Academy with a 75% graduation rate.

On this graduation rate statistic, Success Academy is actually in the bottom 10% in the state and also in the bottom 10% in the country. Nationally it is number 16,468 out of 17,680.

As I’ve written about before, only about 25% of the students who start Success Academy as Kindergarteners end up graduating from the school in 12th grade. More amazing is that only about half of the students who make it to 9th grade also stay to graduate from there in the 12th grade. And among those who do graduate, at least 25% of those take five years to graduate. So this 75% graduation rate is somewhat misleading if you think it meant that the students drop out since the other 25% likely graduate the next year.

Success Academy explains that this is a feature of the school. In their family handbook they explain that they ‘holdover’ students who they think need to repeat a grade and they also ‘skip’ students (skip a grade) who they think are advanced. You would think that most of the holdovers would happen before 9th grade and that once a student completes 9 years (or 10) of school there that they should be in pretty good shape to do the last four years without needing to be a ‘holdover’ either again or for the first time.

But it seems that Success Academy often has students take the fifth year of high school after they have finished 12th grade. On their site they describe it as ‘a fifth year of high school.’

Reading into this explanation there are some things I notice. One is that some ‘previously skipped’ students get eventually left back which must be a kind of strange thing for them. Also notice that one of the benefits of the fifth year of high school is that those fifth year students can now take AP courses. In other words, the 75% four year graduation is directly related to their 100% college readiness index. So if they were not to have the 5th year of high school maybe their 75% four year graduation rate would turn into a near 100% four year graduation rate but their college readiness index might go from 100% to 75% and since the readiness index is 30% of the ranking and the graduation rate is just 10% of the ranking, that change would move the school way down on the overall ranking.

My feeling is that this fifth year of high school, like most things that Success Academy does, is something that benefits the organization more than it benefits the kids. It helps the school get 100% of their students into colleges, it helps the school get some of those students into better colleges than they might have gotten into if they didn’t do that ‘fifth year of high school.’ And, in this case, those extra AP tests help them inflate their position on the U.S. News & World Report rankings.


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Gary Rubinstein

Gary Rubinstein is a high school math teacher. He is the recipient of the 2005 Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship. ...