King Kekaulike High School has again made The Washington Post's list as one of the most academically challenging high schools in the nation.
The approximately 1,025-student public school was the only Maui County high school to be recognized in the "Challenge Index" released this month.
In the state rankings list, the Pukalani school was ninth out of the nine Hawaii public and private schools that made the cut. Topping the Hawaii list were the private Iolani and Punahou schools on Oahu.
Last year King Kekaulike also made the national index, as did Maui High School. But the Sabers were not included in this year's list.
The Challenge Index identifies schools that have done the best job in persuading students to take college-level courses and tests and preparing their students for college. It does not include magnet or charter schools that draw such a high concentration of top students that its average SAT or ACT score exceeds the highest average for any normal-enrollment school in the country.
"I'm very proud of this," said King Kekaulike Principal Susan Scofield on Saturday. "I'm really happy for the students and the teachers. It's really a validation of the effort they put in."
Scofield said that the recognition is also special as most honors for schools and their students are for athletics, arts and other extracurricular activities but there are not many that recognize academics.
The "America's Most Challenging High Schools" index ranks students through an index formula by using the number of college-level tests given at the school, in this case from 2012, divided by the number of graduates the same year. Last year, King Kekaulike had 235 graduates.
The Washington Post said that, with a few exceptions, those public schools that achieved a ratio of at least 1.000, meaning they had as many tests in 2012 as graduates, were qualified to be placed on the national list.
For the 2011-12 school year, only 9 percent of the approximately 22,000 U.S. public high schools managed to reach that standard, The Washington Post said.
The Pukalani school was ranked 1,966 out of 1,997 schools, according to The Washington Post's website.
The type of tests included in the formula are those for Advance Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advance International Certificate of Education programs, in which students may earn college credits.
The Advance Placement courses are the only ones available at King Kekaulike, Scofield said.
Asked what made her school successful in attracting students to take the rigorous AP courses and tests, Scofield said there is no official program or push to get students to take the college-level courses.
But she believes that some of the impetus for students wanting to take the AP classes is the result of a self-selection process in which students can find out what is expected of them in each course and can choose to take the course or not.
Although Scofield said she is not abreast on what is being done at other high schools, she said that, in the past, other high schools may have chosen to screen students before they were allowed to take Advanced Placement courses.
The screening could involve selecting students based on their grade-point averages.
But since the King Kekaulike's beginnings in the mid 1990s, Scofield said, school officials have been open to letting students figure out for themselves if they want to enroll in the college-type courses.
"We didn't want to have someone say 'yes' or 'no" to the students," she said. "To me, students are at the age they should know if this is something for them."
Scofield also believes that the Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, program, a college-readiness program that targets middle-of-the-road students, has also encouraged students at her school to take college-level AP courses.
She said that the program encourages students who may not be thinking about college or are "on the fence" about furthering their education to consider college. At her school, part of the program has students taking one AP class. AVID is available at other schools as well.
King Kekaulike offers 10 different AP courses, which include world history, psychology, biology, physics, calculus, statistics, literature, composition, art history and student art.
Currently, sophomores, juniors and seniors are taking the courses, Scofield said, though some of the courses are open to freshmen.
Scofield likes the idea of having the younger students at the school try their hand at the tougher classes, noting that it could boost their confidence and skill level.
Scofield added that being one of the smaller schools on Maui probably helped King Kekaulike's chances at being placed on the index.
Having some financial aid to help with the costs of the AP tests is also an attractive motivator for some families, who otherwise could not afford to have a child take the exam and therefore would probably not let their child take the AP course in the first place, Scofield said.
The Washington Post's national index also provides some insights into the schools and notes that 47 percent of King Kekaulike's students qualify for federally subsidized lunches. The portion of the applicants for the subsidized lunches is a rough indicator of the school's poverty level.
Kekaulike also has an 80 percent four-year graduation rate and half of its graduating students attend four-year colleges, the index said.
* The Washington Post list: apps.washingtonpost.com/highschoolchallenge/
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.