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Think Your School Needs Improvement? You Might Be Right


At the beginning of April, the Washington Post published a list of America’s Most Challenging High Schools. The schools were ranked using a formula Post writer Jay Mathews calls ‘the Challenge Index.’ The formula consists of taking the total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year and dividing by the number of seniors who graduated in May or June. Public schools boasting a ratio of 1.000−indicating that they had given one such test per graduate−were put on the national list. The schools were then ranked in order of their ratios. According to Mathews, only 9 percent of approximately 22,000 public schools made it onto the list.

An important feature to note about the list is that it excludes any magnet or charter high school that draws such a high concentration of top students that its average SAT or ACT score exceeds the highest average for any normal-enrollment school in the country. This year, that meant that schools had to have an average SAT score below 2000 or an average ACT score below 29.3 to be included on the list.

Despite being one of the most highly-rated school systems in the country, Montgomery County schools are surprisingly low on the list. The highest-ranked MoCo high school is Poolesville, which is 50th on the list. The next highest, Richard Montgomery, is 95th. After that, Bethesda-Chevy Chase is 100th, Winston Churchill is 108th, Walt Whitman is 136th, Thomas S. Wootton is 142th, Walter Johnson is 177th, and Rockville is 300th. The lowest-ranked MoCo high school is John F. Kennedy, which comes in at 1327th—hardly a poor ranking given the sheer number of schools included in the measurement.

Critics point to numerous issues with this list, notably that it ignores factors such as poverty or ethnicity. In Montgomery County, a significant number of students are recent immigrants, are English language learners, or are part of families that can’t afford spending nearly $100 for every AP exam, not to mention for review materials.

Many of the top schools are located in either Texas (seven of the top 20) or Florida (six of the top 20). Of the Texas schools, three are located in Dallas and two are located in Houston. Of the Florida schools, three are located in Jacksonville.

Article by Zoe Johnson

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