A new year brings a new leader in Business First's rankings of elementary schools.
Clarence's Ledgeview Elementary School has pushed up to first place, moving ahead of 2013's leader, Christ the King School of Amherst. It's the third straight year that the top position in this volatile category has changed hands.
The last No. 1 elementary school to successfully defend its title was Olean's Southern Tier Catholic School, which led the rankings in 2010 and 2011. It was supplanted by Ledgeview in 2012, which was replaced by Christ the King a year later.
WESTERN NEW YORK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL LINK:
• Top-to-bottom elementary school rankings.
• Slideshow of the top 100 elementary schools.
• Profiles of all elementary schools.
• Subject awards for elementary schools.
• Explanation of how the ratings were done.
• List of unranked elementary schools.
Principal Keith Kuwik says Ledgeview's return to first place in 2014 is a welcome counterpoint to budgetary pressures and the continuing debate over the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
"It's nice to get recognition for all of the hard work that everybody here puts in," he says. "With all of the controversy over the Common Core, it's a challenging time to be in public education, so this is pleasant news."
Ledgeview has never been far from first place since Business First combined its separate rankings of public and private elementary schools in 2007. The worst finish by the Clarence school during that eight-year span was eighth place. It ranked fourth a year ago.
Schools in the Williamsville district hold the three runner-up positions in this year's rankings. Country Parkway Elementary School occupies second place, followed by St. Gregory the Great School and Maple East Elementary School. Christ the King rounds out the top five.
Business First graded 276 elementary schools in the eight counties of Western New York, using four years of test data from the New York State Education Department. The rankings cover every school that participates in the statewide testing program for third and fourth graders.
Solid performances in mathematics and English propelled Ledgeview back to the top of the standings:
It is the highest-performing elementary school in math across Western New York, based on Business First's analysis of standardized test data from 2010 to 2013.
More than 20 percent of Ledgeview's third and fourth graders achieved superior scores on all four of the statewide English and math tests in 2013, a feat unmatched by any other elementary school in the eight-county region. (Superior is defined as a Level 4 score on any elementary school test.)
And it ranks 12th in English, putting it among the 28 elementary schools that have earned the highest possible rating (five stars) in that field.
Ledgeview's rank is based solely on test results at the third- and fourth-grade levels, but Kuwik says credit must also be given to teachers in younger grades.
"It's not just something that happens when the tests come in third or fourth or fifth grade," he says. "It all starts in the primary grades. We've got a consistent program that focuses from the beginning on building a strong foundation for success."
Twenty-three of this year's top 25 elementary schools are located in Erie County, with the only exceptions being Southern Tier Catholic in 15th place and Sherman Elementary School in 18th.
The latter, which is located in the Chautauqua County village of the same name, has just 210 students from kindergarten through sixth grade.
"Our size can help," says Michael Ginestre, Sherman's principal. "We're small enough that if we identify an area of need, we can individualize the instruction. If a student needs a certain service, we do our best to make sure he or she receives it."
Thirty-eight schools have been named recipients of this year's subject awards, which are given to the top 10 percent of all Western New York elementary schools in English or mathematics.
Twenty honorees have earned a single award, while 18 have reached the elite level in both subjects.
Among the double winners is St. John Vianney School of Orchard Park, which ranks as the No. 1 school in English, based on four years of test scores in that subject. It's No. 8 in this year's overall standings, marking its fourth straight appearance in the top 10.
"We do have small class sizes here," says Deborah Staszak, the new principal at St. John Vianney. "In any instructional situation, that's helpful, I think. The teaching staff has an intimate knowledge of our students' needs. There's a solid connection there."
Private schools that don't take part in the statewide testing program are not included in Business First's rankings, since their performances can't be assessed objectively. Two of the better-known elementary schools that don't participate are Elmwood Franklin School and Park School of Buffalo.