All 12 Howard County public high schools have been ranked among the most challenging in Maryland and in the nation by the Washington Post in its 2017 list of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools.” Two Howard County high schools, River Hill and Centennial, are in the top 12 of the Maryland rankings.
The list ranks the nation’s 2,323 schools considered the most challenging — which represents approximately 12% of U.S. high schools.

To qualify for inclusion in the list, schools must participate in Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or Cambridge testing programs. The rankings are based on the ratio of the total number of AP, IB and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at the school each year, divided by the number of graduates.

The Howard County high schools included on the list, and their rank among the 104 top Maryland schools, are River Hill (11), Centennial (12), Marriotts Ridge (21), Glenelg (41), Howard (44), Mount Hebron (45), Atholton (47), Hammond (54), Reservoir (57), Oakland Mills (69), Wilde Lake (70) and Long Reach (74).
Overall, the list shows a sustained increase in the number of schools that qualify through AP, IB and Cambridge test participation, even though the vast majority of U.S. schools still do not make the list.

As he participated in high school graduation ceremonies and shook hands with young people the end of May, Howard County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano said he is extremely proud of the performance of the schools, the educators and the students.

“When the young people walk across the stage, that diploma really needs to matter,” he said. “When they graduate from a Howard County high school, we can be assured that they have a top diploma, and that they will be ready to go into college and go into careers fully engaged.”

College Readiness

The report looks at public and private high schools nationwide, ranking them based on academic rigor as well as how much this curricula is used by all students, not just academically elite students.

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said it was no surprise to see Howard County schools ranked high on the list.

“Our top-ranked school system works hard to ensure that our students succeed beyond high school,” he said. “Through innovative partnerships to support career and college readiness, we are ensuring that Howard County students are prepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow. As a product of Howard County schools, father of four children who have graduated from our schools and as county executive, I am proud every day of what our students, parents, teachers and administrators, working together, can achieve.”

AP courses mimic introductory college courses in state universities. The final exams are written and graded by outside experts.

The state of Maryland had 104 schools in the list, while Virginia had 84, California had 271 and New York had 88.

Other Rankings

Local educators also carefully watch other rankings, including the U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools list, which ranks 2,600 schools considered the best in the nation, then awards gold, silver or bronze medals based on students performing better than expected in their state; disadvantaged students performing better than the state average; student graduation rates meeting or exceeding a national standard; and students being prepared for college-level coursework.

In 2017, Marriotts Ridge High School was ranked No. 226 nationally and sixth in Maryland by U.S. News. River Hill was No. 258 and seventh, Centennial No. 373 and 11th, Mount Hebron No. 658 and 18th, Atholton No. 1,427 and 34th, respectively, while the rest of Howard County’s high schools missed the cut.
Marriotts Ridge, River Hill and Centennial earned gold medals from U.S. News while Mount Hebron and Atholton earned silver.

“We are proud of these measures because they are based on how prepared students are for colleges and careers after graduation,” said Mount Hebron Principal Andrew Cockley. “While the rankings do not capture all of the different ways students can excel, they are important in helping guide our school improvement efforts. These rankings help show that students from Mount Hebron High School are being academically prepared to face the challenges that await them after high school.”

High-Achieving State

Howard County high schools are highly ranked in a state that, in turn, ranks at the top nationally. In data published in April by U.S. News, Maryland had a higher percentage of top-ranked high schools than any other state in the nation. This marks the third year in a row Maryland has ranked as the best in the nation. Among Maryland high schools, 5.9% earned gold medal status and 21.6% earned silver medals.

Maryland state Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon joined Kittleman in commending students and educators in their consistently high rankings.
“Maryland education has never rested on its laurels, but is constantly innovating to better serve our evolving and growing student body,” she said. “Each one of our 24 school systems — and their educators — is hard at work to improve instruction and produce graduates that are ready for postsecondary education or the job market. Our students are meeting that challenge.”

Statewide, Maryland educators have been emphasizing training programs, such as the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools, which offer partnerships that allow students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate degree in an economically relevent tech field.