At Walter Payton College Prep on the Near North Side, 16-year-olds Diamond Merrell and Skylar Ozoh performed an improv sketch in front of their giggling classmates.
In another classroom, Jamyah Hawkins casually worked on her freshman physics class work.
And during lunch, groups of students gathered in a hallway chatting with friends, texting and playing Ping-Pong.
It was just a regular day at the selective enrollment Chicago public school.
But it’s not a regular year for the high school.
For the first time, Payton ranks as the No. 1 high school in the entire state, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of school report card data released Thursday. Payton unseated Northside College Prep from the top spot it has held for 12 years. Payton had been No. 2 and No. 3 in previous years.
The focus on standardized tests at Payton is “somewhat minimal” Principal Tim Devine said. “We really believe if you just have a great curriculum starting from Day One of the school year, and you build that throughout the entire year and the student’s four-year career, great standardized test scores will be a byproduct of great teaching and learning,” he said.
Hinsdale Central High School claimed the top suburban spot — and No. 4 statewide.
New Trier Township High School was bumped down from the No. 4 spot to No. 6 this year.
The top elementary school in the rankings is also a Chicago Public Schools institution — Skinner North Classical School, which also took the top spot last year.
The Sun-Times analysis of results from tests taken this past spring shows Chicago, with 84.9 percent of its students from low-income households, once again claimed some of the best and many of the worst-scoring schools in the state.
Led largely by the district’s selective-enrollment schools, Chicago grabbed 13 of the state’s top 50 elementary spots — but also 38 of the bottom 50.
For its middle-school performance (sixth through eighth grades), Chicago claimed 19 of the top 50 — and 29 of the bottom 50.
And among the state’s high schools, Chicago rated six of the top 50, but 42 of the bottom 50. At least four schools that took in students from closed schools, including Jensen Elementary Scholastic School and Lavizzo Elementary School, are among the schools that had major drops in rankings between 2013 and last year, according to the Sun-Times analysis.