Washington Post Lauds International School of Minnesota's Academics

The Eden Prairie high school ranked high on a list of America’s most challenging high schools.

Emma Marais, a senior at the International School of Minnesota, took four Advanced Placements classes as a junior and will have completed four more by the time she graduates this year. That may sound like a hearty load, but Marais isn’t an outlier at her school by any means—in 2012, 84 percent of ISM students in grades 8 through 12 took three or more AP classes, and the school offers a total of 19. It’s no surprise that the school ranked high on the Washington Post’s recent list of America’s most challenging private high schools, placing seventh in the nation and first in Minnesota. The Post tabulated the list by dividing the number of college-level tests given in 2012 by the number of graduates. Following the curriculum of the SABIS network of private schools, the ISM places a premium on formal assessment. Students are expected to perform, showing what they’ve learned, instead of simply playing their teachers for points. At the end of every term, starting in first grade, they take a test worth half of their grade in a given class. “You learn what hard work feels like, you learn what success feels like,” said Peter Welle, an administrator and social sciences teacher at the school. “There’s a culture of high expectations and high achievements.” As a school with a non-selective admissions process, kids come in, starting as early as preschool, at all levels of academic strength. The ultimate goal is college success. “Along the way, we’re constantly preparing them,” said Christi Seiple-Cole, the school’s head administrator. One hundred percent of graduates go on to four-year colleges and universities, according to Welle, and students come back with stories of feeling ready for college’s high-stakes papers and one-shot exams, he said. “Kids learn that there’s nothing to dread about this from a young age,” he said. “They just get used to that feeling of work.” While the system may not appear to be all that warm or fuzzy, the classes are small and students are constantly monitored for their progress. Both Welle and Seiple-Cole relayed a big motto educators live by at ISM: “Nobody fails in peace.” Of course, there’s a rigorous public school in our community, too: the Washington Post ranked Eden Prairie High School as the 11th most challenging school in Minnesota.