The minute I saw that Coolidge High School in the District had given a startling 750 Advanced Placement tests last May, and that only 2 percent of those exams had received passing scores, I knew I was in trouble.
For 10 years I have been ranking high schools based on participation in AP, International Baccalaureate and other college-level exams. I call this the Challenge Index. It is the system used by Newsweek in its annual list of top high schools and by The Washington Post in its annual ratings of all Washington area schools, published today in The Post Extra sections and on washingtonpost.com.
Every year I receive thousands of e-mails about these lists, and my refusal to include test scores in the ranking calculations. Some readers praise me for recognizing schools that work hard to prepare students from poor families for college-level courses and tests, even if their scores aren’t good. Others denounce me for giving high ratings to schools full of such students, because many people think low scores should disqualify a school from appearing on anybody’s best schools list.