City, Chesco high schools in magazine's 100 best

Masterman is 53d out of 18,790 in the country, while Conestoga is 79th, says a U.S. News report.

Two area schools, one in Philadelphia and one in Chester County, are among the 100 best public high schools in the country, based on test scores and participation and performance in high-level courses, a new report said yesterday.

Julia R. Masterman High School, which scored the highest of any school in Pennsylvania on reading and math tests last spring, ranked 53d in the country, while Conestoga High School placed 79th, according to U.S. News & World Report, which released high-school rankings for the first time.

Both schools were awarded a "gold-medal" ranking by the magazine, which looked at data from 18,790 high schools nationwide for the 2005-06 year.

Masterman, with 450 students, is one of the Philadelphia School District's most prestigious magnet schools, drawing its enrollment from among the best and brightest across the city. It is at 17th and Spring Garden Streets.

The 1,950-student Conestoga is in Berwyn, in the prosperous Tredyffrin/Easttown School District.

Twelve other area high schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey placed high enough to earn silver or bronze rankings, placing them in the top 1,600, or 8.5 percent, of high schools nationwide.

The U.S. News study - conducted by School Evaluation Services, part of Standard & Poor's - looked at measures including overall scores on state tests as well as scores of minority and low-income students. Specifically, the evaluation looked at whether groups of students performed better than statistically expected.

"We're asking schools to do well by all kids," said Paul Gazzerro, director of analytical criteria for School Evaluation Services.

Participation and performance on college-level advanced placement course tests also were considered and determined which schools got the gold medals.

U.S. News said its study is the most comprehensive of its kind. It follows another analysis that has been done by Newsweek since 2005. Newsweek's analysis does not consider test-score performance; it looks only at the number of advanced placement and international baccalaureate tests taken. U.S. News, however, does not include IB programs, which are used by some area districts.

Students and educators at Masterman were thrilled that their school fared so well, but far from surprised.

Principal Marjorie Neff noted that 99.9 percent of 11th graders last spring scored advanced and proficient on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment. And the other 0.1 percent?

"I think that might be a student who is no longer with us," she said.

Senior Hasan Malik, 17, said he was glad he chose Masterman.

"It's a great school that's not a private school," he said. "To get a good education, why should it be necessary that you go to a high-end or a $20,000-a-year private school?"

Math teacher Kathleen Dopkin, who has a child at Masterman, said students from different backgrounds and areas of the city meld together at the school by the time they graduate.

"When they leave here in 12th grade, they're blended as a community. We can't tell" them apart, she said.

Sixty-eight percent of the school's seniors last year scored 3 or better out of 5 on advanced placement tests.

The school's student body is 46 percent white, well above the district's average for most public schools. Nearly 31 percent of Masterman students are black, 15.4 percent are Asian, and about 7 percent are Latino.

Getting into the school is highly competitive. Masterman, which also has a middle school that starts at fifth grade, received 1,500 applications for about 165 spots in its fifth grade, Neff said.

Conestoga scored high in the percentage of students taking and passing AP college-level courses. Among last year's 12th graders, 64.3 percent took at least one AP course during their high school careers. Of those students, 93.4 percent scored a passing grade.

Disadvantaged and minority students also did relatively well in the suburban district; the passing rate on Pennsylvania's state accountability test for African American 11th graders at Conestoga, for example, was more than double the state average, though still well below the rate for white students.

Overall, 94.8 percent of the students met the state standard in reading, while 90.9 percent met the benchmark in math, far above the state averages of 67.7 percent in reading and 69.2 percent in math.

"We are blessed by our environment - supportive parents, a supportive community, and funding that is more generous than in most districts," said Kevin Mahoney, president of the Tredyffrin/Easttown school board.

" . . . We have the best teaching and administrative staff going, and young men and women who work very hard," he added.

Mahoney said some taxpayers criticize the district for the large number of advanced placement courses it offers, because that brings with it the additional expense of a larger teaching corps.

But "we have very bright kids and we want to keep them challenged," he said. The district, Mahoney said, is looking into what else it can do to offer even a higher level of academics.

"We want to prepare the kids for the global economy," Mahoney said.

Area high schools that received silver rankings, placing them in the top 505 schools nationwide, are: Bodine, Central and Girls' in Philadelphia; Lower Merion in Montgomery County; Radnor in Delaware County; and Central Bucks East in Bucks County.

Among 1,086 receiving bronze awards were six area schools: Bristol in Bucks County; Carver in Philadelphia; Harriton in Montgomery County's Lower Merion district; Brimm Medical Arts and the Creative & Performing Arts High School in Camden; and the Camden County Technical School's Pennsauken campus.

New Jersey also had four schools in the top 100, including Princeton High School in Mercer County and High Technology High School in Monmouth County.


Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.