Attention Readers
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, C & G Newspapers has temporarily suspended its print publications. We look forward to resuming our print operation in the coming weeks. In the meantime, continue to find local news on our website and look for us on Facebook and Twitter. We hope you stay healthy and safe.

WaPo challenge index rates UCS schools highly

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 10, 2016

 UAIS recently ranked No. 1 on the Washington Post’s index of America’s Most Challenging High Schools.

UAIS recently ranked No. 1 on the Washington Post’s index of America’s Most Challenging High Schools.

Photo by John McTaggart


A local school for international studies recently ranked as the most challenging school in Michigan once again, according to an index by a national newspaper.

The Washington Post index of America’s Most Challenging High Schools named the Utica Academy for International Studies No.1 in the state. The school, which belongs to Utica Community Schools, has taken the top spot on that list four times in a row, according to school officials. The school placed No. 2 among Midwestern schools.

All four of the main UCS high schools are also on the list. After UAIS, the school district’s next highest placement on the high school challenge list was Eisenhower High School, which was in 36th place. Directly following was Henry Ford II High School’s 37th place. The other high schools, Stevenson and Utica, placed 43rd and 44th, respectively, according to the list.

According to the Washington Post, the challenge index’s scores were based on the total number of college-caliber exams that each school’s students took in a particular year. The qualifying college-level exams could have included Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests. UAIS has an International Baccalaureate curriculum, and UCS high schoolers also have access to AP courses.

A school’s exam count was then divided by the number of the school’s graduating seniors that same year. The index also considered the number of students qualifying for lunch subsidies and the percentage of high school grads who passed one or more qualifying exams.

The district said in a press release that about 63 percent of its AP test takers score at least a 3 out of a possible 5, which beats the national average by nearly 20 points. In addition, UCS students have taken almost three times as many AP exams than they did a decade ago, officials say.

Justin Spear, program director for UAIS, said his school didn’t originally aim to rank highly on the challenge index.

“We kind of just fell into it,” he said. “The excellent curriculum, the staff, has allowed us to be as ranked as high as we have been on that survey. … The parents and the kids too — without them registering for the (program) and buying into and supporting that, we wouldn’t have that ranking.”

Spear said AP and IB courses can translate into college credit upon successful completion of exams, and he called them part of the district’s “college culture.” But he said UAIS doesn’t only select the academic cream of the crop — it seeks students who want to learn.

“For us, it’s all about the opportunity, equity and access for students,” he said. “We don’t have a minimum grade point average requirement to apply for the program. We are looking for the motivated student.”

In a statement, Superintendent Christine Johns said the schools’ rankings recognize the school district’s efforts to make rigorous classwork available to students.

“Even as important, we have been able to increase the number of students taking advantage of rigorous offerings and still maintain a strong level of achievement in our district,” she said.

Find out more about Utica Community Schools by visiting or by calling (586) 797-1000. To see the Washington Post index, visit