Nontraditional schools dominate Idaho’s SAT score Top 10 list

When it comes to the SAT, it’s not magic that separates Idaho’s top-performing schools from the rest – but it might have something to do with the type of school. 

Of the 10 schools in Idaho with the highest SAT average, six are nontraditional, according to 2022 SAT score results released Friday by the State Department of Education. The SAT is a nationally-recognized measure of college preparedness and the test is taken by most of Idaho’s juniors at the taxpayer expense of about $1 million a year. 


Average SAT composite score 

(state average = 962)

1. Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy       1295
 2. North Idaho Stem Charter       1224
 3. Renaissance High       1182
4. Meridian Technical Charter        1139
5. North Star Charter       1118
6. Boise Senior High       1113
7. Moscow High       1088
8. Timberline High       1087
9. Meridian Medical Arts Charter       1080
10. McCall-Donnelly High       1075

Engaged parents, perfectionistic students, and regular homework also contribute to these standout scores, principals say. 

Takeaways from Idaho’s top-performing school: homework, involved parents, and hardworking students  

Dan Nicklay, the principal at Coeur D’Alene Charter Academy – which earned Idaho’s highest average SAT score – said it’s all about student willingness to tackle challenges and work hard. In fact, he said students choose to attend the charter academy (which serves grades 6-12) for just that reason – they want higher expectations so they’ll be more prepared for college.

“We promise rigor,” he said. “Go-on rates … aren’t going anywhere, partially due to the fact that standards are pretty low in general for whatever reason … We’re battling against that.”

Nicklay said the school’s curriculum is accelerated – sixth graders are taught math lessons usually reserved for eighth graders, and eighth graders are reading novels usually saved for juniors and seniors, like The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. 

“When you work kids harder and you push them, great things happen,” Nicklay said. 

He also tells teachers not to be bashful about assigning homework. 

“There’s been a movement in this country to abolish or minimize homework,” he said. “But when you go to college, it’s all homework and you’ll flame out if you’re not ready.”

Homework amounts vary, but he said 30 minutes per class per night would be a reasonable amount. The academy also supports students with a 35-minute study period each day to ensure homework doesn’t become overwhelming. 

Involved and engaged parents are also key to the school’s success. They must take the time to drop off and pick up their students each day and support them through long nights of homework. 

Nicklay said the school doesn’t track socioeconomic status among its students, but said the school has a diverse population. However, he acknowledged that the lack of bussing could prevent some students from attending the school. 

For those who do attend the school, Nicklay said they are well-prepared for college and often report back that college is far easier for them than for their peers. Academy students have learned to budget their time and work hard, and those soft skills pay off. 

“It’s not that they’re brilliant,” Nicklay said. “It’s that they’re prepared.”

But college-prep charters like the academy do have the advantage of having a self-selected, college-minded clientele. 

“We’ve got it good,” Nicklay said. 

At Renaissance High, test practice, tutoring, and ISAT entrance requirements propel scores to the top

To get into West Ada School District’s Renaissance High – a college prep school of choice that serves grades 9-12 – students must have proficient scores on the math and English portions of the ISAT. 

Once students are admitted, the only courses available are honors. When students are juniors, they opt to pursue the IB program (the academic or CTE route) or earn an associate’s degree in university studies from Idaho State University.

The students who choose to attend Renaissance tend to be high-achieving perfectionists, principal Shana Hawkins said. They hate to miss school, they check other students when their behavior disrupts learning, and they have long-term goals for life after high school. 

And they take testing seriously. 

Students take the PSAT their sophomore year (when it’s required), and about 95% take the PSAT again their junior year (when it’s optional). That practice is essential, Hawkins said. 

High-performing seniors at Renaissance also volunteer to tutor their peers after school in Math and English, offering advice, help, and suggestions based on their own experiences with the SAT. 

On top of that, teachers measure student growth and work hard to address students weaknesses that are revealed on the PSAT. 

“We are strategic, specific, and purposeful in what we do in the classroom,” Hawkins said. “We are making opportunities available for students, then giving them options for what works best for them and their families.”

Fewer than 40% of Idaho schools scored above the state SAT average

Of the 219 schools in Idaho that reported their 2022 SAT data, only 81 earned scores above the state average of 962. That means 138 schools were below the state average. (National averages for 2022 have not yet been released.)

This year, SAT benchmark percentages fell for the second consecutive year, as did overall composite scores and evidence-based writing scores.  Math scores were lower than last year’s. 

Statewide SAT Averages

Year Math SAT score EBRW SAT score Composite score  % meeting EBRW benchmark % meeting math benchmark % meeting both benchmarks
2019 480 496 976 56.1% 32.6% 30.8%
2020 483 502 985 58.0% 33.0% 32.0%
2021 485 495 980 53.2% 31.2% 29.0%
2022 472 490 962 53.3% 30.5% 28.0%

The new data comes as requirements tied to college entrance exams have rolled back and education leaders have questioned the validity of standardized tests. 

Data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Reporter Carly Flandro works in EdNews’ East Idaho bureau. A former high school English teacher, she writes about teaching, learning, diversity, and equity. You can follow Flandro on Twitter @idahoedcarly and send her news tips at [email protected].

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