Three Long Island schools were selected as among the best in two states -- New York and Colorado -- in a pilot program honoring campuses that "put students, not test scores, first."
Malverne High School in Malverne, John H. Glenn High School in Elwood and Long Beach High School were among the 17 honorees.
The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado announced the winners Thursday, saying they are the first to receive the "School of Opportunity" designation.
The project, funded by the Ford Foundation and the NEA Foundation, highlights schools that offer educational opportunities and advancement for all students, not just a chosen few.
Districts were selected for their efforts to eliminate the opportunity and achievement gap that often separates students by wealth, race, disability and ethnicity.
Winning districts maintained a healthy school culture, ended or reduced tracking, reassessed approaches to student discipline, supported teachers as professionals, addressed key health issues, and built on the strengths of English learners, among other accomplishments.
Malverne earned the highest honor in 2015, a gold designation, along with five other schools in both states. The two other Long Island schools earned a silver designation.
Jim Hunderfund, Malverne's superintendent, said it has taken years for the students in his largely minority school district to reach for and expect success. With more and more taking college-level courses and succeeding, the children have learned that their goals are within reach, he said.
"It was about raising the bar for all kids," he said.
Gary Furman, Elwood's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said his district this year opened Advanced Placement and honors-level classes to all students, regardless of their academic past.
"Previously, students had to have a certain average or certain scores on Regents exams" to qualify, he said. The district has seen a 30 percent jump in participation this year.
Long Beach Superintendent Dave Weiss said he's proud of the designation. Like the others, his district is in the process of removing the barriers that have kept some children from a more rigorous curriculum.
For example, ninth- and 10th-graders in his school system are not tracked in English and social studies. Tenth-graders can elect to take Advanced Placement world history. Math and science courses in those grades remain sequential.
"We had to change our instruction so that the top continues to excel and the students who don't have that level of skill are also challenged," Weiss said.
The high school offers the International Baccalaureate program and other college-level classes for all 11th- and 12th-grade students.