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Tag: newsweek (Page 2 of 2)

Just Say No To The Challenge

I find this a rather refreshing stand on principles.

The Palo Alto Public School District declined to be included in this year’s Newsweek listing of the country’s “best” high schools as determined by Jay Mathews’ “challenge” index.

While some individual schools have dropped out before, this is first time for an entire district.

In declining to participate in Newsweek magazine’s annual ranking of high schools, Palo Alto says it hopes to strike a blow against shallowness, student stress and unwanted publicity.

Said Marilyn Cook, associate superintendent of the district: “It’s a very simplistic premise that the quality of a school can be measured by the number of AP tests students take.”

It’s nice to see at least a few educators refusing to participate in this farce. I wish our system would do the same, but I doubt it will happen.

Now can we talk about Mathews’ other efforts to canonize the AP curriculum?

Side note: So far the Washington Post, which owns Newsweek and for whom Mathews is a staff writer, doesn’t seem to be reporting this story from the AP. It will be interesting so see if or how they do.

More Challenges to the Index

I’m not sure any more criticism of Jay Mathews’ Challenge Index is really necessary but this article in today’s New York Times is too good to ignore.

Here is just one example cited by the writer for why this ranking is “meaningless,” “ridiculous,” “illegitimate” and “journalistic Barnum & Bailey”. (I love that last one!)

For example, Foshay Learning Center, a high-poverty school in Los Angeles, is ranked No. 414 on Newsweek’s list with a ratio of 1.888 AP tests per graduating senior; Lexington High, in well-to-do suburban Boston, is ranked No. 441, with a ratio of 1.831. For Newsweek, it does not matter that Foshay students failed 83 percent of their AP tests with scores of 1’s or 2’s; while at Lexington, 91 per cent were 3’s, 4’s or the top grade of 5 – qualifying those students for college credits.

And that points up a major problem with a listing like this that receives national attention far beyond its validity. It provides a smoke screen for schools where students are taking lots of tests but not learning.

Read the whole article for Mathews’ defense of his index and of Newsweek calling the schools on it the “best” in America. And imagine the grade you would give a student essay with arguments that weak.

Return of the Numbers

Jay Mathews’ AP fan club is back in session!

Newsweek’s cover article this week features their annual listing of America’s “best” high schools, based on Mathews increasing bogus “Challenge” Index”.

For those who haven’t suffered through my previous rants on this topic, here’s now this little game works.

The “Challenge” Index is compiled using one simple piece of arithmetic. Each school gets a number which is the ratio of “the number of Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate tests taken by all students at a school in 2005 divided by the number of graduating seniors”.

At the same time, the ranking ignores all student scores on those tests, along with vocational programs, artistic and musical achievements, student publications and any other measures you might use to judge the quality of a school.

Mix the numbers together into a high profile article in a national magazine that attracts all kinds of other media attention and you have one of the most worthless exercises in educational reporting.

To be fair, the main article in the magazine offers some good examples of how some schools are fostering student achievement outside of Mathews’ numbers. But it’s the “Challenge” Index ranking that will make headlines in local papers and school district propaganda.

Simplistic numbers always garner much more attention than complicated details. They also lull people into believing the path to genuine school reform is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Update: The Post helpfully ranks the states by the number of schools on Mathews’ “best” list. Educators in Alaska, Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming, all of which placed no schools, are in deep doo doo.

Challenged Index

Someone else doesn’t think much of Jay Mathews’ Challenge Index. An organization called Education Sector has released a report calling the Index a “seriously flawed measure of overall quality”.

The Index is Mathews’ ranking of American high schools based solely on a ratio of the number AP and IB tests taken by students to the number of graduates. His annual list is reported in Newsweek (often making the cover) and in many other news outlets.

So what’s wrong with that? As I’ve ranted before, this is a far too simplistic approach to judging school quality, one which completely ignores anything but the attempt.

Creating a list like this wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t given such high credibility by the news media. School quality is a complex issue and the flurry of publicity that surrounds the Challenge Index masks many other factors that need to be addressed.

Using publicly available student performance data, we found that many schools on Newsweek’s 2005 ranking have glaring achievement gaps and high dropout rates. By presenting them as America’s best, Newsweek is misleading readers and slighting other schools that may in fact be better than those on Mathews’ list.

While some schools on Newsweek’s list may be among the best in the nation, a closer look at the data reveals that many do not meet a reasonable definition of a good high school. Indeed, some of the schools on the list have such significant achievement gaps that they should be on a list of schools needing improvement rather than on one for best schools. And it is not merely the case of a few outliers. In fact, so many of the schools on the list have such significant gaps in achievement among their student subgroups that it calls into question the entire Newsweek enterprise.

There is much more to the report, with their findings backed up by large amounts of data on student achievement. Far more than is behind the Challenge Index, which contains none at all.

It would be nice if this kind of information was presented on the front pages of national magazines and newspapers. It probably won’t happen, however, since that would require readers to understand more than simple arithmetic.

Update (3/8): Not being the swiftest blogger on the net, I completely spaced the fact that Education Sector is the organization behind Eduwonk, one of the best sources of education news and commentary (mostly right :-) on the web.

While You Were Sleeping

It must be all the distractions that come with winter break, but I missed Jay Mathews’ recent unleashing the DC-area edition of his Challenge Index. I can only assume that the national list will be showing up as a cover story in Newsweek very soon.

The index is Mathews invention to rank high schools based on a simple formula: “Divide the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other college level tests a school gave by the number of seniors who graduated in June.”

While he claims “the rating is not a measurement of the overall quality of the school”, Mathews still takes every opportunity to play up the Index as a golden indicator of school quality. Case in point is today’s article in which he uses the index as evidence that several high schools in the District (and elsewhere in the area) are improving.

Wilson High in Northwest went from 666 to 775 Advanced Placement tests, raising its rating on the Challenge Index to 2.541, the highest ever attained by the school. It achieved the higher percentage without any decline in the passing rate on the AP tests, which remained at 51 percent.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with more students attempting an AP class. However, the statistics he notes also points up the primary flaw of the index. It looks only at how many students took the tests, and includes nothing about how many actually passed it.

I know I’ve ranted about this many times before (hey, it’s the season for reruns retrospectives), but there are many factors that go into making a good high school. The number of students in advanced classes is only one small part. Unfortunately, the Challenge Index gets far more headlines – and, as a result, is given far more weight – than it deserves.

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