The Washington Post sports pages this weekend were full of detailed analyses of our beloved local football, basketball and baseball teams. It was inside stuff, lapped up by readers like me who care about these sports and love to see the latest numbers.
Why can’t we get that excited about what is happening inside our schools? Okay, watching great teachers explain the mysteries of plate tectonics or cultural assimilation is not as exciting as seeing Todd Collins complete a pass to Ladell Betts for a touchdown. But our schools do have some intriguing statistics, just like sports teams. I spent my weekend using them to look inside several high schools in the Washington area and finding some thrilling surprises.
Last week’s column was about the new best high schools list in U.S. News & World Report, and how it compares to the Challenge Index list in Newsweek. That is, as the economists say, the macro part of the school assessment game, the big picture. Today, I want to look at the micro part, the inside-the-school perspective, aided by the latest Challenge Index rankings of this region’s 186 public high schools, coming out in The Post and on this Web site Thursday.
The Challenge Index ranks schools by their college-level test participation rates — the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and other college-credit exams given at each school, divided by the number of graduating seniors. I do not factor in how well students do on those exams in the main rankings, because I have been convinced by successful AP and IB teachers that even students who struggle with the exams are much better off academically than if they did not take a college-level course and test at all.