In the 30 years I have been studying the growth of Advanced Placement and other college-level courses in American high schools, no development has been more surprising or controversial than what I call the “Catching Up Schools.”
That is my label for about three dozen schools across the country in low-income neighborhoods that offer an unusual number of AP classes despite the fact that very few of their students are able to pass the difficult three-hour final exams.
Each year, I rate local and national high schools based on AP test participation. My latest rankings appeared this week. In 2008, I removed schools from the main lists of what we call the “High School Challenge” if their passing rates were below 10 percent. I put them on a separate “Catching Up” list. I calculated that once a school with high participation rates reached a 10 percent passing rate, it was producing as many successful AP students as a school with average participation and passing rates.