A newly published book, Class Struggle by Jay Matthews evaluates the public schools of the United States and Manhasset has reason to cheer. In a ranking of 230 of the nation's best, Manhasset ranks seventh, second on Long Island after Jericho. It is the icing on the cake after the district also received high marks from New York State.
This year the New York State Department of Education (SED), for the second year, has issued report cards for each of the state's public schools. As part of a state plan to raise standards, the report cards are intended to enable communities to review information about performance and serve as a foundation for improvement. Educators generally approve of the plan but many have criticized its implementation, finding the cards often inaccurate and difficult to understand. The reports replace the CAR (Comprehensive Assessment Reports) which had previously been the state's method of measuring school performance.
According to Dr. Rainier Mellucci, Manhasset Schools assistant superintendent for instruction, it is not possible to compare this year's report card with last year's because methods of measurement, among other things, have changed. Dr. Mellucci added that statistics can be misleading. For example, if a high school such as Manhasset has 800 students, the state divides that by four and assumes that there are 200 students in each class. In fact there could be 225 in one class and 175 in another. But according to the state's method of measuring, even if all 175 students in a class of 175 pass the Regents, the school only gets a passing percentage of 87. Another source of confusion is the number of students who take a Regents exam. For example, if 20 students are enrolled in a third year French class and all pass the Regents, the school is still considered to have only 10 percent of students passing the French Regents. There is some method behind this apparent madness. In the past, some schools have discouraged students from taking the Regents examinations if the teacher was quite sure they would not pass, substituting for the Regents a local school exam. This gave schools an inflated image, if all those who took the exam passed but not all those who took the course took the exam.
All of that being said, Manhasset's report card was "generally positive," according to Dr. Mellucci. Manhasset has a zero dropout rate. It has 85 percent of its students going on to four-year colleges, with most of the others either going to two-year colleges or to some form of career education. Manhasset is second in Nassau County in the number of Advanced Placement Scholars (31 percent).
One change in this year's report cards is that all students are included in the data. In the past, special education students have been given separate reports. Consequently the overall percentage of students receiving Regents diplomas is lower this year than last year. Two years ago in Manhasset, 70 percent of the students received Regents diplomas. Last year it was 66 percent. Last year, for example, the percentage of Average Grade Enrollment (AGE) who passed the Regents Comprehensive Examination in English was 80 with 36 percent passing with distinction (85 percent or higher).
Data that is included for the first time this year is a comparison of a school district with what the SED calls "similar school districts." Similarity is identified in three ways: the districts teach comparable grade levels; they are part of districts with similar local wealth and similar pupil poverty levels; and they have a similar proportion of pupils who are eligible for free lunches and/or have limited proficiency in English.
The report cards do not give information on what sort of enrichment programs the schools have. In other words, there is no way to discover that Manhasset has an outstanding music program or a remarkably good theater department. In time the state may investigate these programs, but for the moment it is concentrating on the basics. Dr. Mellucci says that although the report cards do not reflect the entire picture of a school district, they do reflect essential academic performance. "Where it can be measured, it should be measured," he says.
One criticism that has been levelled at public schools in the press recently is that teachers are teaching in fields which were not in their area of study. According to Dr. Mellucci, "we have none of that here."