Carruthers in 2013. (Courtesy Ithaca City School District)

Ithaca, N.Y. – Lehman Alternative Community School Principal Diane Carruthers was asked what her school does to prepare her students for the SAT.

“Nothing,” she said.

Really? Nothing?

“We do nothing at all to help them prepare,” Carruthers said. “We don’t offer an SAT prep.”

(Kyle Friend)

That may come as a surprise given that LACS, which houses students from grades 6-12, posted the highest SAT scores in upstate New York in 2012, according to the publication Business First.

The top-10 average SAT scores by school in upstate New York. Three Ithaca-area schools are on this list. (Courtesy Business First)

Out of 476 schools accounted for in upstate New York, LACS finished first — 38 points higher than the runner-up, Brighton High School in Brighton, New York.

But Carruthers, who has been principal at LACS for a year, said the school’s emphasis on learning over standardized test scores has paid off.

“We’ve always tried to downplay the test for our students and help them focus more on learning,” she said. “A lot of research shows that it’s not a good predictor of student success in college.”

Carruthers also said that students that have found their passion and are able to think critically are more likely to be successful after high school.

But how did these students do so well on a test that high school students across the entire country dread taking?

Carruthers said that it comes down to the amount of reading and writing that LACS students complete during their time at the school.

“Our students do an enormous amount of reading and writing here. Probably more than high school students in traditional schools,” said Carruthers, who taught social studies at LACS before she became principal.

“Even in science class, they’re going to be asked to do a lot of writing. Even in their math classes, they do a lot of writing.”

She also made note of some students’ “leap of faith” by coming to LACS.

With the school’s minimal standardized testing, some students are worried that they won’t be prepared for test-taking in college, she said.

“This shows that they can,” she said.

Carruthers in 2013. (Courtesy Ithaca City School District)

Carruthers, who oversees about 50 staff members at the school, said students do well after LACS.

“If they can’t name all the presidents in order, I think they have other skills that compensate for that and take them even further,” she said.

Students at the school participate in the democratic process by way of an all-school meeting each week, something that Carruthers says has a positive impact on skills that are important for students to acquire.

“You see a 6th grader doing that … facilitating a meeting with 350 people — how many adults can do that?”

Kyle Friend

A senior at Cornell University, Kyle covers the affordable housing crisis for the Ithaca Voice. Reach him through e-mail: