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New rankings put Texas high schools at the top — but not Austin

Graduates throwing caps in the air
Just how well are high schools preparing Texas teens for higher education? Courtesy photo

There's a certain pride that comes with seeing your high school on a list of the best in the country. Even decades after commencement, seeing your alma mater's name shimmy up that list can be thrilling. Equally as thrilling is seeing the high school your child attends — or will attend — applauded for exceptional education standards. 

Unfortunately, only one school in Austin managed to crack the top 100 on a list of the most challenging schools in the country. Despite six of the top 20 slots going to Texas schools, no Austin high school ranked in the top 10, 20, 50 or even 80. Austin's Liberal Arts and Science Academy was the first local school on the list coming in at No. 82. Though the school has previously been ranked No. 14 in Texas and No. 68 in the nation by the U.S. World & News Report, these newest rankings examined different criteria than the predecessor.

The Washington Post's Jay Mathews crafted the "challenge index," a formula that examines a high school's total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests as well as the number of seniors who graduated every year. 

Researchers purposefully left magnet schools off the list, focusing instead on how schools prepare average students for higher education. "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," said Jay Mathews. Though Travis County does have a lower median age than the rest of Texas (31 versus 40.8), having competitive educational programs will no doubt be a critical issue as the population ages and more children head into high school.

And a citywide issue it will be, too. Westwood was the second Austin school to rank coming in at No. 127. Westlake was right behind at No. 129. Lake Travis was the lowest, coming in at No. 846. Bowie High School was not ranked. 

While the No. 1 spot went to American Indian Public Charter in Oakland, Calif. Dallas-area schools were well represented with three schools ranked in the top five. Uplift Education North Hills Preparatory in Irving was No. 2; Talented and Gifted, and Science/Engineering Magnet, both in Dallas, ranked No. 4 and No. 5, respectively. Carnegie Vanguard marked Houston's first high school on the list, coming in at No. 11. 

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