Success on Advanced Placement tests plays key role in rankings


Valley Stream North High School, in Franklin Square, took its place on a list of the nation’s most challenging high schools and another ranking the overall best high schools in the country, compiled by The Washington Post and Newsweek, respectively.

For the Post’s rankings, 2,053 high schools, out of more than 22,000 in the U.S., made the list. North ranked 532nd nationally and 49th in New York state.

The Post’s ranking formula was simple: the number of Advanced Placement and other college-level tests given at a school in a single year, divided by the number of graduates.

Dr. Thomas Troisi, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction of the Valley Stream Central High School District, said it was an honest ranking, with the same standard being applied to every school. And North Principal Cliff Odell added, “I like what it’s measuring. What it’s saying is we are challenging as many students as possible.”

Newsweek ranked the 2,000 best high schools in the U.S. Its criteria included a school’s four-year on-time graduation rate, the percentage of graduates who were accepted at colleges, the number of Advanced Placement and other college-level tests taken per student, and SAT and A.P. scores. North ranked 985th on the list.

Odell said that the district gives students numerous opportunities to take college-level courses, offering 21 A.P. classes. Some students have taken as many as 15 of them.

Troisi said that students are encouraged to take these challenging courses whenever possible, and that the district has a liberal policy to support that. He explained that while some districts have minimum requirements for a student to be able to take an A.P. course, Valley Stream doesn’t. “That has always been the philosophy,” he said. “If a kid wants to challenge himself or herself, we let them.”

A student can take an A.P. course in world history as early as 10th grade. There are numerous offerings in social studies, math and science, with college-level classes also available in English, math and music. Honors-level courses at the junior high level have been made more challenging, Troisi explained, to prepare students for the A.P. classes they will take in high school.

About one-third of students at North take A.P. courses. This year, 91 of them were named A.P. Scholars, which means they scored at least a 3 out of 5, the A.P. test’s highest score, on a minimum of three tests.

The district helps ensures that students can take these tests. The cost to take an exam is $86, which is typically paid by a student. But if cost is a factor, the district has federal funds available to help out. “We can’t let economics be a barrier,” said Superintendent Dr. Bill Heidenreich. “You could have kids taking four or five of these exams, and it gets expensive.”

Their success in college-level courses is particularly impressive, administrators added, because students in the Northeast have one fewer month to prepare for their tests than those in other areas of the country. The tests are given in May, which is the end of the school year in many regions where classes begin in August.

“You really have to hit the ground running in September,” Odell said, “because the pace of the curriculum moves very, very fast and it’s a very challenging curriculum.”

The new Common Core Learning Standards, which have been implemented nationally, focus on college and career readiness. In the age of diminishing financial resources for schools, non-mandated programs like A.P. courses could be on the chopping block despite their value to students. Heidenreich said that the high-level courses will remain a priority in the district.