Credit: Jill Wagner

Once again this year the Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA) has been ranked among the top 10 public high schools in the state of Illinois by the news magazine U.S. News & World Report. This year PMSA dropped two spots in the U.S. News rankings falling from sixth to eighth. U.S. News ranked PMSA as the 281st best public high school in the country.

Nevertheless District 209 Interim Superintendent Bessie Karvelas, a former principal at PMSA, was happy that PMSA was once again ranked in the top 10.

“I’m very excited because this is what the Proviso Math and Science Academy is about,” Karvelas told the Forest Park Review. “It’s about the rigor of the curriculum, it’s about our IB program, our advanced placement classes, our students, how well they do and how they excel and it’s always been about all the way back to 2014.”

Seven of the top 10 high schools in Illinois in the U.S. News rankings are, like PMSA, selective enrollment high schools meaning they only admit some of the students who apply to go there. The two schools that jumped ahead of PMSA in the rankings this year are not selective enrollment schools, Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire and Vernon Hills High School in Vernon Hills. The top five schools in the state, according to U.S. News are all selective enrollment high schools in Chicago. The order was unchanged from last year. Payton College Prep was ranked the top high school in the state followed by Northside College Prep, Jones College Prep, Whitney Young Magnet School and Lane Tech.

Karvelas pushed back against the suggestion that it’s not that great an accomplishment for a selective enrollment high school, such as PMSA, to be highly ranked because the school only admits smart kids.

Karvelas, who once was the principal at Lincoln Park High School and spent much of her career working for the Chicago Public Schools, said the kids who get admitted into the top five schools often have test scores in the 90th percentile.

“That’s not the case with Proviso Math and Science Academy,” Karvelas said. “We accept these kids with a lot lower scores and these children excel and they reach the top. There’s no comparison to the jumps that these children at Math and Science make by the time they go to their junior and senior year.”

U.S. News bases its rankings on a statistical analysis of six factors. College Readiness, which is measured by the proportion of a school’s 12th graders who took and earned a qualifying score on an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam is worth 30% of a school’s score. Proficiency on state assessment exams counts for 20% as does a measure of the performance on state assessments adjusted for the proportion of the student body that is Black, Hispanic or low income.

Counting for 10% of a school’s score each is the breadth of a school’s college prep curriculum which is measured by the percentage of a school’s students who took and earned a qualifying score on multiple AP or IB exams, a measurement of the academic performance among Black, Hispanic and low income students at a school and the school’s graduation rate.

Proviso East and Proviso West, the two other high schools in District 209 didn’t fare well in the rankings as they were among the lowest ranked 228 public high schools in the state. East and West finished tied for 437th. U.S. News gave a numerical rank only for 436 public high schools in the state. The rest of the state’s 664 public high schools were ranked as tied for 437th.

According to U.S. News Proviso East had a 71 percent graduation rate for the Class of 2021 and only 7% of Proviso East students passed an AP exam. Only 2% of Proviso East students met the state standard in math, 3% did so in reading and 5% in science. The comparable statewide average is 20% in math and 30% in reading and science.

In the past few years District 209 has started math and science academies at Proviso East and West using the school within a school concept giving some students at Proviso East and West exposure to a more rigorous curriculum.

“We’re starting to grow the program,” Karvelas said.

Karvelas said it will take time to make significant improvements at East and West.

“This is the beginning stages of what we’re trying to do at East and West,” Karvelas said. “We are putting in programs to help support the students and we have challenging programs that we are just now rebuilding. I have just become acting superintendent here and we are just starting to build the programs and starting to get more rigorous courses and our teachers now are being trained and being trained for new programs so that we can have these students grow and excel in all of our academic programs so we are going to get to that level. It doesn’t happen overnight. Rome was not built in a year.”