HARRISONBURG — Harrisonburg High School has been named to a list of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” in an index compiled by The Washington Post.
HHS was ranked 81st among 340 Virginia public high schools and 1,516 of the 1,900 schools named to the list trimmed from the nation’s more than 24,000 public high schools, according to a Harrisonburg City Public Schools press release.
The 2012 index based rankings on the number of Advanced Placement tests — to earn college credit — taken by the school’s students compared to the number of seniors.
HHS had 289 seniors in 2012, and 300 students, mostly juniors and seniors, who took the 17 AP classes the high school offers, Harrisonburg City Schools Superintendent Scott Kizner said.
“We’ve had more students taking more AP courses,” Kizner said. “Obviously, our students are responding by the significant increase of AP tests that were administered from two years ago to last year.”
In 2012, the number of AP exams taken by HHS students at all grade levels increased from 329 to 417, with 73.5 percent earning scores of 3 or higher, another number that the index considered.
Students who score 3 or higher out of 5 on the tests can earn college credit, Kizner said.
Kizner said that studies have shown overwhelming evidence that students benefit from taking harder courses because the classes force students to work hard and develop problem-solving skills.
“It’s better to take a more challenging class, not necessarily to get the passing rate,” he said. “That type of coursework prepares you for two- and four-year colleges better.”
But the emphasis on more challenging coursework isn’t just at the high school. The school division has been encouraging middle-schoolers to take high school-level classes, such as algebra and foreign languages.
“Three years ago, we only had about 20 percent of our middle school students taking Algebra I,” Kizner said. “Last year, we had close to 40 percent.”
And HHS intends to continue challenging its students with help from a grant from the College Board to work with students who speak English as a second language. Because of the grant, teachers will receive training this summer to better teach these students.
“We don’t want the school system to be the reason why a student doesn’t choose to go to college,” Kizner said. “If you’re committed to doing the work, we’re committed to work with you to help you be successful.”