Charter Academy keeps challenging students

Coeur d'Alene school ranks high in pushing students academically

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Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy's commitment to providing an academically rigorous, rich educational experience has once again earned the school national recognition.

Charter was ranked 65th this year by the Washington Post in the newspaper's annual list of the U.S. high schools that challenge students the most. This is the second consecutive year that Charter Academy has been ranked in the top 100.

The ranking is not based on test scores, but rather, on the number of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests taken by all students, divided by the number of graduating seniors.

"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," writes Jay Matthews, the Post's education writer who coordinates the list each year.

Charter Academy students take 6.3 advanced learning tests per graduating senior.

Students at American Indian Public Charter, in Oakland, Calif., ranked the No. 1 most challenging high school in the nation, take 21.9 tests per graduating senior.

Matthews wrote that he steers clear of counting passing rates because, in his experience, those numbers are often artificially inflated. Many high schools allow only their top students to take advanced learning courses and exams.

Matthews points out that there is an academic benefit to having average students take these courses, regardless of whether they receive a passing score. They get to experience the challenges that come with college-level coursework: higher expectations, longer reading lists, deeper analysis of subject matter and more papers to write.

"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," he wrote. To pass an AP exam, the score must be 3, 4 or 5.

Charter Academy was ranked the No. 1 most challenging high school in Idaho, and the only school in North Idaho to make the list. It was ranked the 17th most challenging high school in the West.

In analyzing this year's results, Matthews points to what he indicates may be an emerging trend regarding high school sports and academics.

Matthews added an extra question to this year's annual survey. He asked the schools if they have 11-person football teams.

"To my astonishment, 67 of the top 100 schools ... said they do not field a team, denoting a shift in American high school culture, at least in those schools that challenge their students most," Matthews wrote.

In 1998, the first year Matthews ranked schools, there was only one school in the top 10 without a football team. This year, seven of the top 10 don't offer the sport.

Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy offers several varsity sports for girls and boys, but football isn't one of them.

"Academics first," is one of the "foundational values" listed on Charter's website,

The school opened in Coeur d'Alene in 1999.

It was one of the first charter schools to open after state legislators authorized the creation of charter schools.

Charters are free, public schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure.

Charter Academy is open to all Idaho students who are admitted through a lottery process, not based on grades.

The complete list of the nation's most challenging high schools can be viewed on the Washington Post's website:

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