It’s an interesting way to evaluate high schools: Add up all the college-level tests (Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education) taken in a given year and divide by the number of graduating seniors.
Using this method of analysis, education writer Jay Matthews compiled The High School Challenge, published Sunday in The Washington Post. The target, set by Matthews, was for every school to have as many college-level tests as diplomas issued.
With Matthews’ approach, just 7 percent of the nation’s public high schools (1,910 schools of 27,000) meet the target ratio. The reason, in part, is that many school systems, wary of challenging students who are unready, only allow students with at least a B average to sign up for AP, IB, and AICE, according to Matthews. Others with low test scores just don’t encourage students to push themselves to take advanced classes. Matthews’ philosophy is to reward schools who open the door wide to AP classrooms and urge all students to take the chance on the rigorous curriculum.
Only half of students who go to college get to take college-level courses in high school—a fact that draws mixed reactions among educators, says Matthews. He acknowledges that his list of the top 200 schools ranked according to his criteria generates some controversy.
Alternative approaches to high school rankings include one produced by U.S. News & World Report, which considers students’ performance on state tests, as well as AP and IB participation. Others, by The Wall Street Journal and Worth magazine, evaluate high schools based on the percentage of graduates who enroll in certain selective colleges.
While there is no ideal ranking that will satisfy all, Matthews’ Challenge Index is a challenge to high schools to think more broadly about the importance of providing a college-level experience in high school. It also adds to the debate over how to best prepare student to succeed in college and improve college graduation rates.
The top ranked schools, according to Matthews’ Challenge Index:
1. Science Engineering Magnet, Dallas
2. Talented and Gifted, Dallas
3. Corbett Charter, Corbett, Texas.
4. BASIS Tucson, Tucson, Ariz.
5. Stanton College Prep, Jacksonville, Fla.
6. Jefferson County IB, Birmingham, Ala.
7. Suncoast Community, Riviera Beach, Fla.
8. Signature, Evanston, Ind.
9. City Honors, Buffalo, N.Y.
10. North Hills Prep, Irving, Texas
A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.