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Magazine ranks Ashland High in top 3 percent

Ashland High School has been ranked as one of the top 3 percent of high schools in the nation for its academic scores and preparing students for college, according to a national news magazine.

Ashland, with 1,100 students, was rated a Silver School, one of the best 505 schools in the nation in U.S. News and World Report's first ranking of high schools.

"This is an incredible honor for us," said Ashland High School Principal Jeff Schlecht. "It validates the rigor in our instruction, the relevance of our curriculum and the relationships between students and teachers. It's a mixture of those things that cause students to engage in schoolwork."

U.S. News and World Report used a three-step process to analyze 18,790 public high schools in 40 states.

High schools in 10 states and the District of Columbia were excluded from the rankings because they provided insufficient data, with seven states and the District of Columbia not providing any testing information at all for the analysis. The magazine's college rankings have drawn strong criticism from colleges nationwide, and some schools have refused to supply information in protest, though it wasn't clear if that's the reason 20 percent of the states were excluded from the high school rankings.

The survey's first step looked at state assessments to determine whether each school's students were performing better, factoring in low-income students who tend to score lower. The second step involved finding out whether minorities and low-income students were performing better than similar students in the state.

Finally, Advanced Placement participation and scores were used to measure how well the school prepares students for college.

"We've always been known for our top students; more than 80 percent of our students go on to college, but that wasn't the main criterion for this award," said Tamara Anderson, a math teacher at Ashland High for 15 years. "They looked at whether we support all students, not just the top students and the bottom students. It's exciting that we've been recognized for having that balance."

The top 100 schools with the highest college readiness scores were given the designation of Gold Schools.

There were no Gold Schools in Oregon. About 405 schools earned the title of Silver Schools nationwide, eight from Oregon. Another 1,086 received bronze awards.

"I'm certainly not that surprised about it," said Jesse Javna, a senior who wrote an article Thursday about the award in the high school newspaper, Rogue News. "It's great for it to be official, but the students already know what a phenomenal school this is."

Ashland High School has long been on a pedestal in Southern Oregon for its Advanced Placement courses and graduates who go on to Ivy League colleges.

The school boasts higher scores on the state assessment, the SAT and ACT tests than the state average. It also has a lower dropout rate and higher attendance rate than the state average.

But in the past five years, the school has made more of an effort to reach out to struggling students who need additional time and attention to succeed.

Ashland, known for its highly educated and affluent community, has another side — one of the highest poverty rates in Jackson County.

"Five years ago, we looked at our data and said, we do great with Honors kids, but we need to work on underrepresented kids," largely low-income students, Schlecht said.

Since then, the school has established a tutoring center during eighth period with student tutors paid for by the Ashland Schools Foundation to help students catch up in class or keep from falling behind.

A new guided study skills class geared toward freshmen also was added to the schedule. Students are either referred or volunteer for the class. The study skills teacher, Brenda Paustrian, checks up on each student to see what assignments they're missing, where they're falling behind and shows them how they can get back on track. She also teaches them time-management skills and helps familiarize them with the resources the school offers.

"If I didn't have this class I probably wouldn't be doing very well at all," said Ashland freshman Max Hartley. "I'm starting to get my grades up."

A student services team made up of academic counselors and administrators meets weekly to review a list of struggling students referred by teachers and parents and prescribe an intervention they think will help them perform better in a given class.

More information on the rankings is available at www.usnews.com/directories/high-schools online.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or at pachen@mailtribune.com

Ian Greenberg, left, gets some Algebra II help from Jesse Juana during a math tutoring session at Ashland High School Thursday. The school got a strong ranking from a national magazine. - Jamie Lusch