A Newark charter high school has landed at the top of a national ranking that measures how many students take rigorous, college-level Advanced Placement courses.

Uncommon Schools’ North Star Academy in Newark was ranked the top five in New Jersey in the Challenge Index, a national ranking based on the percentage of students who take Advanced Placement courses.

The Challenge Index, which has been published in both The Washington Post and Newsweek since 1998, is the oldest ranking system in the nation.

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"It is the only list that does not rely on test scores, which are more a measure of student family income than school quality," according to Jay Mathews, an author and long-time education columnist for the The Washington Post who compiles the ranking.

North Star Academy earned a 4.67 on the Challenge Index, which is a ratio of the number of AP tests given at a school each year compared with the number of seniors who graduated that year.  

While not part of the ranking, the index also indicates how many students passed AP tests. At North Star Academy, 64.2 percent of seniors who graduated from the school last year passed at least one AP course. According to the College Board, New Jersey is one of the highest performing states in terms of percentage of high school graduates that have passed at least one AP exam with a rate of 28 percent.

“This is what excellence looks like,” said Michael Mann, the head of school at North Star Academy Washington Park High School, one of two North Star high schools in Newark. “Our faculty and staff show every day that with hard work and persistence, there is nothing they can’t accomplish.”

Only Elizabeth High School, Newark Academy in Livingston, Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School in Jersey City and the Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics & Engineering Technologies had a higher Challenge Index than North Star. 

Newark Academy is a prestigious private day school with a tuition of $40,000 while both McNair and Middlesex County are magnet schools that require students to take an entrance exam. North Star Academy is a public school open to all students in Newark. 

North Star ranked ahead of public high schools in the state's wealthiest districts, including Princeton (ranked 6), Livingston (ranked 17), Millburn (ranked 18) and Summit (ranked 19). 

Two Newark district high schools placed on the list. Science Park High School was ranked 35th in the state and American History High School was ranked 148. Both are magnet schools and require entrance applications. North 13th Tech, an Essex County Vocational Technical School, was ranked 103.

Success on the AP exams have been linked to success in college. Studies have shown that AP students outperform their peers in a variety of measures of academic achievement, including college entrance exam scores, college GPAs, measures of writing ability in college, and college graduation rates.

North Star Academy has been ranked in several surveys among the best high schools not only in Newark, but in the in the state. U.S. News and World Report ranks North Star Academy 13th in the state, while New Jersey Monthly ranked North Star second best in Newark. Newark's Science Park High School ranked higher on the New Jersey Monthly list.