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.