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Ashland, South Medford high schools in top 10%

A U.S. News & World Report analysis has ranked Ashland High School and South Medford High School in the top 10 percent of the nation's secondary schools.

Out of the nearly 20,000 public high schools nationwide to be included in the survey, Ashland and South Medford were ranked at 1,267 and 1,861, respectively, earning both schools the coveted silver medal. This is Ashland's fifth silver medal and South Medford's first.

"We never take it for granted," said AHS Principal Michelle Zundel. "We never rest on our laurels. We realize that we are meeting more rigorous demands with status quo staffing and a discretionary budget that keeps getting cut. I am awed by the Ashland High School staff who were able to increase our standing."

In 2012, Ashland was ranked the 15th best school in Oregon by the U.S. News & World Report. But this year, it is considered the 12th best school in the state, and South is the 26th best.

Seventy-seven of Oregon's 287 high schools were awarded medals, including four gold, 22 silver and 51 bronze. Crater Renaissance Academy and Rogue River Junior/Senior High were awarded bronze medals.

"We are really pleased to be improving," said Paul Young, superintendent of the Rogue River School District. "We are envious of schools, like Ashland, who have been on the top for many years, but we are clearly on an upswing here in this school district."

U.S. News & World Report, in collaboration with the American Institutes for Research, followed a three-step process to determine the nation's best high schools.

The publication initially looked at 31,242 public high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia. However, 11,831 of those schools were unable to provide sufficient data and, therefore, were excluded from the survey.

The first step was to look at how students fared on state proficiency tests and factor in the number of "economically disadvantaged students" enrolled in the school, as these students tend to score lower on assessments.

The second step was to compare how minority and low-income students at the school performed compared with similar students statewide. And the final step was to measure Advanced Placement participation and scores to determine how well the school prepares students for college.

"I appreciate the methodology they use to rank schools because they look at the results a school is getting from their most vulnerable student population," said Zundel. "You don't even get in the ranking without taking care of everybody, and that is unique to American education."

South Medford Principal Kevin Campbell said he was flattered that his school was being nationally acknowledged. Over the past several years, South has bolstered its AP program, increasing the number of AP courses offered and the number students registering for them, he said.

South's teachers also have been intent on meeting with students one-on-one or in groups to address essential skills and break down difficult concepts, he added.

The award, Campbell said, is a testimony to the hard work of both teachers and students, and not just the ones "taking college-level work."

Zundel applauded Ashland's elementary and secondary teaching staff, but mostly praised the students.

"They had to apply themselves and really care about reaching these milestones," she said. "I'm going to have to throw a party for them or buy them ice cream sandwiches or something."

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.