Guess what time of year it is? Not Christmas. That’s pretty obvious from just walking into any retail space.

No, it’s time for the annual educational hype known as the “challenge” index.

The index is Jay Mathews’ ranking of high schools nation wide based only on the number of AP and IB tests taken by their students. As always, the numbers don’t bother with any other trivial factors like the actual scores on those tests.

There’s nothing new here. At least nothing that hasn’t been the subject of rants here before. (Am I getting predictable? :-)

However, it’s interesting that the Post saw fit to put this “news” on the front page of the morning paper, highlighting that 70% of area schools scored a 1 or better on the scale.

The reporter? The creator and prime cheerleader for the index, Jay Mathews.

Being a good journalist, Mathews did include a comment from critics of his ranking. In the next to the last paragraph, following much glowing praise for AP tests and the index itself.

In the last paragraph he mentions that the full listing will include statistics from the College Board (which sells the AP program) called Equity and Excellence, which “measures the percentage of students who earn at least one passing AP score”.

So, if you work in a high school somewhere in the US, be prepared. Irrelevant numbers, supposedly about the quality of your school, will very likely be making their way to the front page of your local newspapers.

Enjoy the season.