Jay Matthews, the education columnist for the Washington Post, just released his rankings of the nation's and the DC-region's most challenging high schools. Matthews' index score is the "number of college-level tests given at a school in the previous calendar year divided by the number of graduates that year." So, in essence, the more AP tests a school administers, the higher its index number.
Matthews purports that all students, even those from areas with weaker educational systems and might lack readiness, can and should take AP tests. While some might suggest that not all students can meet the challenges of the AP tests, administered by the testing behemoth The College Board, Matthews sides with those "who believe lack of progress in U.S. high school achievement is because so little is demanded in most classrooms."
He goes on, as a way of supporting his point: "But what if you have teachers who are skilled enough to grab the interest of many of those habitual slackers and who can show them that struggling with a challenging course is less boring than sitting through a painfully slow remedial course?"
But there's the rub, right? Skilled teachers.
I'm very familiar with the students at the #6 DC-area school on the list, McLean High School, in McLean, Virginia. MHS teachers are extremely dedicated and prepared to teach the students from this highly affluent DC suburb. However, rising class sizes; an ever-increasing budget gap, currently at $51 million, according to Fairfax County Public Schools; and teacher pay that is lower than its nearby counties are starting to cause problems. Last year McLean High School reportedly hired 33 new teachers to complete its 120 person teaching staff: almost a 30% changeover.
While McLean High School still has dedicated teachers who can "grab the interest of habitual slackers," new teachers might not yet have the skill enough to really teach students at the AP level--and this is in an area where the school only has 9% of its students receive or reduced lunch and enjoys a safe and productive atmosphere.
However, apparently schools in more difficult situations are giving AP tests. In the national rankings, many of the schools in the top 10 have a substantial number of students receiving subsidized lunches, including three in Texas: Science/Engineering Magnet (#3, 65%), Talented and Gifted (#6, 31%), and Idea College Prep Mission (#11, 91%).
We might ask this question: To what end? We know that students are taking AP classes and tests, but are they receiving passing scores of 3s, 4s, or 5s?
However, I'm not sure the scores matter. To develop able students, they need rigor and expectation. While results are nice, what's most important is creating a cohort of students who believe they can succeed and are prepared to take on the challenges of college.
A College Counselor who asks and answers the tough questions.