Top 4 Public High Schools in the Capital Region in 2010

by Sandra Foyt on September 28, 2010

in Uncategorized

bouton_hs Back in February, I listed the Top 5 Public High Schools in the Capital Region in 2009 as defined by Jay Mathew’s Challenge Index that is published annually in Newsweek. This post’s title gives a hint as to the volatile nature of these rankings. Some of the same schools are back on the list in 2010, but a couple of schools, Shaker High School and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, dropped down below the charts. Another school, Saratoga Springs High School, took their place as it moved up the charts.

  1. # 557 Bouton High School -  Voorheesville, N.Y. (2009: #500, 2008: #410, 2007: #395, 2006:#228, 2005: #270)   Additional statistics from the 2008-2009 New York State Report Card: Total Graduates – 105; Receiving a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation – 67; Total Noncompleters – 5 (3 Dropped Out); 4-Year College Plans – 64%. Course Guide
  2. #976 Albany High School** – Albany, N.Y. (2009: #1112)  Additional statistics from the 2008-2009 New York State Report Card: Total Graduates – 411; Receiving a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation – 102; Total Noncompleters – 177 (167 Dropped Out); 4-Year College Plans – 32%. Course Guide **Both AP & IB Courses Available
  3. #1048 Bethlehem Central High School – Delmar, N.Y. (2009: #1197, 2008:#993, 2007: #930, 2006:#759, 2005:#638, 2003:#487)  Additional statistics from the 2008-2009 New York State Report Card: Total Graduates – 389; Receiving a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation – 248; Total Noncompleters – 14 (9 Dropped Out); 4-Year College Plans – 71%. Course Guide
  4. #1519 Saratoga Springs High School – Saratoga, N.Y. Additional statistics from the 2008-2009 New York State Report Card: Total Graduates – 444; Receiving a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation – 174; Total Noncompleters – 49 (19 Dropped Out); 4-Year College Plans – 53%. Course Guide

What does the list mean?

I know a lot parents, especially those with young children, will look at this ranking and wonder what does this mean? As I described on the previous post,

The Challenge Index formula takes the number of college tests such as the Advance Placement or International Baccalaureate given by a high school, and divides that number by the number of graduating seniors.

In other words, the Challenge Index lists schools that offer the highest number of accelerated classes to the greatest number of graduates. This simple formula overlooks many important factors to be considered when selecting a secondary school, but it’s helpful when comparing school options. Personally, I like to compare school course guides to get a better perspective on what these rankings truly mean. To illustrate, let us compare the high school my daughter will be entering in the fall to some of the highly ranked schools.

Comparing a Non-Ranking School to the Academic Elites

Columbia High School, East Greenbush, N.Y. (Not ranking on the national list of top high schools in America.) 2008-2009 New York State Report Card: Total Graduates – 351; Receiving a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation – 182; Total Noncompleters – 42(37 Dropped Out); 4-Year College Plans – 47%. Course Guide

  • Right off the bat, you know that this school does not offer an IB program or enough AP classes to merit inclusion on the Challenge Index.
  • Looking at the School Report Card, I’m not happy to see such a high drop out rate and such a low percentage of students who plan on, or are prepared for, the 4-year college track.  Will this impact my child?  Probably not as she is on the accelerated track.
  • Comparing the Course Guide at CHS to the Top 4 in the Capital Region, it’s noticeable that my daughter’s school does not offer as many language options.  Is this a problem? Not really.  Even Jay Mathews, the creator of the Challenge Index, questions the value of foreign language instruction. More pertinently, my daughter has no interest in taking another foreign language in school.  She has an interest in learning Czech and Russian, but outside of school.
  • Where you really do see a difference in course offerings is when you look at the schools that are at the highest echelons of the Challenge Index. Take a look at the Course Guide at the #1 school on the list this year, the Talented and Gifted High School in Dallas, Texas. A ninth grader at the TAG school would have the following schedule: AP World Human Geography; Pre-AP English I; Pre-AP Algebra II or Pre-AP Geometry; Pre-AP Biology I; Pre-AP Computer Science I; Foreign Language (3 years of same); Physical Education; Elective.  A CHS student can enroll in: AP World History; Honors English; Honors Geometry; Living Environment (Biology); Spanish II, Physical Education, and Art.  The differences at CHS are: AP World History is a 2-year class resulting in one AP; the Computer Science AP is not offered; and instead of Pre-AP English or Math, there is Honors English or Math.  Other than the Computer Science offering, I’m not seeing a qualitative difference in instruction between these two schools, at least not in the basic curriculum.

Don’t Let These Lists Make You Crazy

These lists can a parent a wee bit crazy, worrying and wondering what their child is missing, questioning if a low ranking high school will affect college admission.  Don’t let them!

No matter how many accelerated classes a school offers, there is a limit to how many one student can take before there are diminishing returns.  While it’s nice to go to a school that has seemingly limitless resources, there is only so much that one child can do. There is also a benefit to seeking learning opportunities outside of high school, whether at community colleges, online, or elsewhere.

The Capital Region may not have any of the highest ranked schools on the Challenge Index, with only four making it onto the list at all, but somehow our students manage to get into the best colleges and to distinguish themselves in countless ways.

These lists are interesting to look at and chat about, but that’s all.  Heck, the nation’s most selective schools don’t even make it onto the list!

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| Sandra Foyt is a storyteller, photographer, and road trip junkie. A veteran of six cross-country road trips, she drove Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, the fossil freeway, the extraterrestrial highway, and even “the loneliest road in America.” Find her on, an award-winning destination guide to extraordinary travel in and from Northeast USA, on her portfolio site at, and in freelance gigs on Family Travel 411, Minitime, Huffington Post, and Matador Network. Email:, Twitter @SandraFoyt.

EdH September 17, 2011 at 11:39 am

It’s not just the school – it’s the student as well, and sometimes more. Can they accommodate his/her learning style? Are there clubs around their interests? Rather than just measuring results (which represents an average), look for a one-to-one match of school to student.
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