School officials today disputed the methodology and results of a recent ranking of districts by Boston Magazine that placed Somerville Public Schools 118th out of 135 statewide.
Superintendent Anthony Pierantozzi and Assistant Superintendent Vincent McKay said the magazine's evaluation neglected to include the unique economic, ethnic, and language demographics that can have a broad impact on performance, they said in a joint phone interview.
"If you have 52 percent of students coming from homes where English isn't the first language, our SAT scores aren't going to be the same as Weston," said Pierantozzi. "Talking to some of my colleagues, there are some of these districts on the list that have 10 English Language Learners," he said. "We have 1,700."
The result, they said, are criteria skewed to favor suburban districts that have fewer students in poverty, from ethnic minorities, and who must learn basic language skills.
"Any fair yardstick has to include the demographics," said McKay, who also oversees the curriculum and performance measurement.
While still roundly criticizing the list, both administrators said that rankings can be useful tools, but offer only a partial snapshot of a system that focuses on results.
The survey's methodology was questionable, too, Pierantozzi and McKay said. While the magazine explains that criteria results are averaged, they do not say how much weight each criteria is given in the final consideration.
"There is some value here, but you have to keep it in perspective," said McKay. "Any system that does not in some way take into account the economic makeup of a community ... The data is suspect."
Pierantozzi said that even with the admitted challenges his district faces, all students are held to a high standard. Some go on to achieve just as much as students in wealthier, more homogeneous districts.
Recounting the class of 2011's plaudits, he said that three students received full scholarships to Harvard and one to Tufts University, and a fifth student is attending nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"We may not have the same percentages as Weston, because we're not the same community," Pierantozzi said. "It's really all about match and fit, not comparison lists."