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Williamsville Tops Business First School Rankings .. Again

(WBEN) For the tenth year in a row, Williamsville Central School District has topped Business First's annual ranking of Western New York schools, based on the paper's analysis of student performance and related state data in almost 100 local districts.

East Aurora moved up to grab second place and  Clarence slipped to third this year, while Orchard Park and Iroquois round out the top five.

  BUSINESS FIRST'S SCHOOL DISTRICT RANKINGS  (Each District is Followed By It's County)

1. Williamsville (Erie County)
2. East Aurora (Erie County)
3. Clarence (Erie County)
4. Orchard Park (Erie County)
5. Iroquois (Erie County)
6. Bemus Point (Chautauqua County)
7. Lewiston-Porter (Niagara County)
8. Amherst (Erie County)
9. Lancaster (Erie County)
10. Hamburg (Erie County)
11. Grand Island (Erie County)
12. Alfred-Almond (Allegany County)
13. Akron (Erie County)
14. Alden (Erie County)
15. Southwestern (Chautauqua County)

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Business First's  Projects Editor
G. Scott Thomas

Among the reasons for Williamsville's dominance, the paper cites an above average number of Regents diplomas granted, and the strongest English and Foreign Language test scores in Western New York ( Third grade to HS).

Williamsville is also the only district where more than 60 percent of the students received superior scores on last years regents exams in English, Geometry, History, Biology and Earth Science,  It's also the only one where 5 percent of the test takers earned superior marks on the statewide English exams in grades 3,4, 7 & 8 , the paper says. 

"I don't think it is teaching to the test. Certainly concept knowledge is important, but it is also how to apply that knowledge,"  Williamsville superintendent Scott Martzloff tells WBEN.

Martzloff is proud of the district's rankings and believes that it is a useful yardstick, especially for people who may want to factor school performance into any relocation decision.

"We're very proud. We are proud of our students, are parents, our teachers and principals. Certainly for our school community it is a tremendous achievement and a lot of hard work," Martzloff says. 

But in a year when several districts are either re-evaluating- or even rebelling- against state mandated teacher testing, even Martzloff says there could be adjustments to the frequency, costs and timing of the tests, especially in the younger grades.

"There's a number of concerns that we have, that I think the state could look at., " Martzloff says. ".. just the numbers of tests, having the all the local exams as well, the various benchmark assessments, it's just a little out of balance ,  he says
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Williamsville Supt. Scott Martzloff
NYS Regent Bob Bennett

WHAT GOES INTO THE RANKINGS ?  Here's how they explain their methodology:
"Business First analyzed 97 school districts within the eight Western New York counties, based on four years of test data compiled by the New York State Education Department. Each district's rating reflects the collective performance of its public elementary, middle and high schools. (The 98th district, Wyoming, was not rated because it doesn't have a high school.) "  the paper says

Full details will be available in Business First's 2013-2014 Guide to Western New York Schools, which hits newsstands today (Friday). Highlights are also available right now (Friday) at the newspaper's website: http://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo.

VERBATIM  From Business First .. here's their announcement of the rankings:


The streak has now extended into double digits.

Williams is No. 1 yet again in Business First's academic rankings of Western New York school districts. This marks the nth straight year that it has occupied first place.

"We have the right recipe for success here -- motivated students, supportive parents, hardworking teachers, committed administrators and a community that truly values education," says Scott Martzloff, Williams' superintendent.

The runner-up position had been equally stable -- with Clarence in second place from 2004 through 2012 -- but this year brings a shift.

East Aurora is the new No. 2, continuing its inexorable climb. East Aurora began making its move in 2008, when it edged from sixth to fifth place. It reached fourth in 2009, third from 2010 to 2012, and now ranks second.

"We're trying to avoid any dramatic changes in what we're doing," says Brian Russ, East Aurora's superintendent. "Our goal is steady and consistent improvement. We're analyzing the data to find those areas where we need to get better, and then we're determining how we can adjust and improve our instruction."

Clarence now sits in third place, followed by Orchard Park and Iroquois.

Fifteen school systems have qualified for the 2013 Honor Roll, a distinction granted to all districts that earn at least 90 points on Business First's 100-point scale. All of this year's Honor Roll districts were on the elite list a year ago, but four of last year's 19 honorees have fallen off.

A couple of them missed the Honor Roll by paper-thin margins. Frontier's score is 89.96 points, with Holland a step behind at 89.95.

Business First analyzed 97 school districts within the eight Western New York counties, based on four years of test data compiled by the New  York State Education Department. Each district's rating reflects the collective performance of its public elementary, middle and high schools. (The 98th district, Wyoming, was not rated because it doesn't have a high school.)

Williamsville remains the No. 1 district because of its vast array of academic accomplishments:

-- Its subject scores in English/foreign languages, mathematics and social studies are the best in Western New York, according to Business First's breakdown of 2009-2012 test results from third grade through high school. (Clarence is the leader in the fourth major field, science.)

-- Almost two-thirds of Williamsville's high school seniors (64.8 percent)  earned Regents diplomas with advanced designations in 2012, the latest year for which official figures are available. That dwarfs the average for all 97 Western New York districts, 41.6 percent. (A student must pass eight Regents tests to earn an advanced diploma.)

-- It's the only district where more than 60 percent of all students received superior scores on last year's Regents exams in English, geometry, U.S. history, biology and earth science. (Any Regents score of 85 or better is classified as superior.)

-- Williamsville is also the sole Western New York district where at least 5 percent of all test-takers earned superior marks on statewide English tests for grades three, four, seven and eight, and at least 30 percent achieved superior scores on statewide math exams at the same four age levels. (Superior is defined as a Level 4 performance on any elementary or middle school test.)

The challenge, says Martzloff, is not only to maintain this record, but to improve it during an era of budgetary constraints.

"We want to continue to innovate and do even better," he says. "But the fiscal situation can make it more difficult. It's hit everywhere, including  in Williamsville. We've cut $7 million from the school budget just in the two years that I've been here. We're not immune from it."

Eleven of the 15 Honor Roll districts are located in Erie County, including the top five noted above. The other Erie County entries are Amherst, Lancaster, Hamburg, Grand Island, Akron and Alden.

Two of the outlying honorees are in Chautauqua County -- Bemus Point and Southwestern. The others are Lewiston-Porter of Niagara County and Alfred-Almond of Allegany County.

The latter is the smallest Honor Roll district, a status it has held every year since 2002. Alfred-Almond's current enrollment is 627 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Every other elite district but Bemus Point (749 students) has more than 1,400.

"The biggest thing is that we have a culture in this community that supports student success -- and, in fact, expects it," says Richard Calkins, Alfred-Almond's superintendent. "That's fantastic, because it creates accountability for all of us."

Fifteen districts are recipients of this year's subject awards, signifying that they rank among the 10 best performers in the fields of English and foreign languages, mathematics, science or social studies.

Five districts have scored clean sweeps, winning awards in all four subjects. Among them is Iroquois, which has jumped up to fifth place in the overall standings, its best finish since it was No. 2 in 1994.

Superintendent Douglas Scofield says Iroquois has been carefully analyzing recent trends, looking for ways to improve its performance.

"We're a data-oriented district, which makes it easier for us to get better," he says. "And I'm not just talking about test data. We also look at public surveys, surveys of staff members and other forms of public input -- anything that helps us make informed decisions."

The other school systems that hold four subject awards are Bemus Point, East Aurora, Orchard Park and Williamsville. A pair of districts have three subject awards apiece: Clarence (everything but social studies) and Hamburg (all but science).

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