Newsweek ranks South Tahoe High among nation’s top schools |

Newsweek ranks South Tahoe High among nation’s top schools

Roseann Keegan

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – South Tahoe High School was ranked among the nation’s top 6 percent of high schools by Newsweek magazine for the fourth time in the past five years.

Each year, Newsweek picks the best high schools in the country based on how many students are challenged with advanced-placement college-level courses and tests. More than 1,600 schools – 6 percent of all the public schools in the United States – made the list. South Tahoe High came in at 1097 based on 2009 data.

The school did not make the list in 2009, but was ranked 1047 in 2008, 562 in 2007, and 975 in 2006.

Neighboring Whittell High School in Zephyr Cove and Douglas High School in Minden, both within Nevada’s Douglas County School District, did not make the list. Incline Village High School, in the Washoe County School District, ranked 767.

Three California schools made the top 20 list: Oxford Academy in Cypress, Preuss UCSD in La Jolla and Pacific Collegiate in Santa Cruz.

Dr. James Tarwater, superintendent for the Lake Tahoe Unified School District, said the district is proud to provide opportunities for students to successfully undertake AP coursework.

“To encourage students to challenge themselves academically and to enable students to be more competitive when applying for admission to post-secondary institutions, STHS provides rigorous advanced placement coursework,” Tarwater said in an e-mailed response. “Our rigorous standards are reflected in Newsweek’s ranking.”

South Tahoe High Principal Ivone Larson said 100 percent of the school’s students take the AP tests.

‘We have a very strong advanced placement program,” Larson said. “We have state funds to subsidize the test for students who don’t have the funds to test. We offer extensive courses … That’s what makes our data really strong.”

Larson said the school offers 11 advance placement courses and six honors courses, including English, math, social studies, science, biology, calculus, psychology, Spanish, U.S. history and world history.

“We continue to encourage our students to take the most rigorous curriculum and take the AP exam, which is like the final exam in a college course,” Larson said.

However, some feel the “America’s Best High Schools” list is faulty due to the methodology used to rank schools.

For instance, one of the major standards by which schools are graded is the number of college preparatory tests – IB, AP and Cambridge – given at a high school divided by the number of graduating seniors, so smaller schools are not punished. The number of students who actually pass the tests – the percentage of students who scored 3, 4 or 5 on the five-point AP test or 4, 5, 6 or 7 on the seven-point IB test- are not factored in the list rankings.

Newsweek contributing editor Jay Mathews – who manages the compilation of the list – said using passing rates as a standard encourages schools to reduce test-taking participation by selecting and encouraging only the best students to take the tests.

“I decided not to count passing rates in the way schools had done in the past because I found that most American high schools kept those rates artificially high by allowing only top students to take the courses,” said Mathews via the Newsweek website.

However, the Washington Post added the “Equity and Excellence” statistical rating developed by the College Board, which demonstrates passing rates at each respective school.

South Tahoe High School’s E&E rating is 26.5 percent. The national average is 14.1 percent.

Tribune reporter Matthew Renda contributed to this report.

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