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State's most challenging high school: Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology

The Washington Post’s annual list of most challenging U.S. high schools was just released. As usual, the top school in Georgia is the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology

For the past 17 years, the Post's education columnist Jay Mathews ranks schools on a “Challenge” index that considers the number of students attempting tough courses as measured by enrollment and test taking in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education courses.

In creating the index, Mathews sought to celebrate the schools that open their most rigorous curriculum to the greatest number of students. He writes in the Post:

The list is based on what I call the Challenge Index. Schools qualify only if they give at least as many AP, IB or AICE exams in a year as they have graduating seniors. They are then ranked by their tests-to-graduates ratio. I also include a sampling of private schools. When I started the list in 1998, I could find only 243 public schools that qualified. The 2015 list, based on 2014 data, has more than 2,300 schools.

That’s progress, but not nearly enough. In one recent year, 300,000 students who showed readiness for AP based on their PSAT scores were denied a chance to take those courses, according to a College Board study. That waste of time and talent is rarely discussed in education conferences or political platforms.

The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology ranked 26th out of 2,300 schools nationwide. The only other Georgia school in the top 100 nationwide is St. Andrew's, a private school in Savannah, which ranked 97th.

Coming in at 111th is Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, a public school in Augusta. Fulton County’s Cambridge High School ranked 132, while Gwinnett’s Meadowcreek High School ranked 140th.

Chatham's Savannah Arts Academy came in 164th, and Cobb’s Walton High landed 176th.

While the ranking considers the number of AP, IB and AICE tests given, it doesn’t weigh how well the students do.

Mathews explains:

I decided not to count passing rates in this way because I found that many high schools kept those rates artificially high by allowing only top students to take the courses. AP, IB and AICE are important because they give average students a chance to experience the trauma of heavy college reading lists and long, analytical college examinations. Research has found that even low-performing students who got a 2 on an AP test did significantly better in college than similar students who did not take AP.






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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.