The Washington Post released its annual national public school ranking called “America’s Most Challenging High Schools,” placing Evanston Township High School (ETHS) as 14th in the state and in the top 2 percent in the nation.

ETHS moved up one spot from last year’s 15th place ranking, while also raising its index score. Four of the top schools are magnet schools.

For the past 15 years, Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews has rated the nation’s public high schools based on a formula called the Challenge Index, which is the following ratio: the number of Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year, divided by the number of seniors who graduated that year.

In order to earn placement on the Washington Post list, a public school must achieve a ratio of at least 1.0, meaning they had as many tests in 2012 as they had graduates. This year only 9 percent of the approximately 22,000 U.S. public high schools that were considered managed to reach that standard and earn placement on the national list, available online at

ETHS is among 1,900 high schools that received an index score. Also noted are the percentage of students who come from families that qualify for lunch subsidies and the percentage of graduates who passed at least one college-level test during their high school career, called equity and excellence.

“We are committed to creating pathways for many more ETHS students to take our most challenging honors and Advanced Placement classes,” said ETHS Superintendent Dr. Eric Witherspoon. “This national recognition affirms the importance of continuing to make these important strides to benefit all students.”

Mathews analysis filters out magnet or charter high schools in the country that “have no, or almost no, average students” as reflected by the school’s average SAT or ACT scores.

“The Challenge Index is designed to identify schools that have done the best job in persuading average students to take college-level courses and tests,” Mathews says in his column. “Research has found that even low-performing students who got only a 2 on an AP test did significantly better in college than similar students who did not take AP.”

ETHS has demonstrated commitment to increasing access to Advanced Placement (AP) classes through programs and initiatives that help break down barriers to AP opportunities.

Freshman courses in humanities and biology have been restructured to prepare far more students to take honors and AP classes.

Last year, 766 students took 1,800 tests, the most in the high school’s history. More than half of ETHS students in grades 11 and 12 participated in AP exams and the percentage of scores of 3 or higher, considered proficient, increased from 65 percent in 2011 to 70 percent in 2012.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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