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Posted at 05:54 PM ET, 05/18/2011

New national high school rankings appear Friday

We moved my annual Challenge Index rankings of American high schools from Newsweek to washingtonpost.com. On Friday May 20 we will unveil the new list on washingtonpost.com. The Post will have a special section for the list in the Sunday paper for May 22.

This year we ranked more than 1,900 schools, all those that met our standard of having given at least as many college-level tests in 2010 as they had graduating seniors.

This is my contrarian way of assessing high schools. I think the standard measures, such as average test scores, reveal not the quality of the education but the affluence of the parents. Since I started producing the Challenge Index in 1998, many teachers and principals have told me that the list, by recognizing which schools try hardest to involve students in college-level courses and tests, put the emphasis where it should be---on what staff are doing to make students better.

Many people disagree with this approach, although as the list has become better known I have heard fewer complaints about the methodology. That makes me sad. I love to argue about this stuff. I think one problem may be that the Challenge Index at the moment has less competition than it has had in the past.

Worth magazine and the Wall Street Journal did not repeat their attempts to rate high schools by what portion of graduates got into selective colleges. U.S. News & World Report mounted a sophisticated high school rating system in 2007 that looked at several factors. But it did not publish a list in 2010. Its numbers-crunching partner in the venture, Standard & Poor’s, decided in late 2009 to get out of the school-rating business.

I am encouraged, then, to learn recently that Newsweek, my former partner in putting out the annual Challenge Index, wants to create a list of its own to rival mine now that I have abandoned them. None of the editors I worked with are still there, but their successors are making some moves. Several schools have received a Newsweek request for data, including measures like graduation rates and percent of students going to college that I don’t use. The magazine’s message says it has enlisted three experts---Teacher For America founder Wendy Kopp, Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond and former Gates Foundation education executive director Tom Vander Ark.—to help come up with a new methodology.

That would be great. I have found that when other competitors have put out their lists, mine gets a sudden surge of page views. Some readers are confused, I assume. Others want to compare how their schools do in different venues.

I will put up a column on Monday that will allow you to place comments telling me how little I understand about how schools work. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this, and make the 2012 list even better.

By  |  05:54 PM ET, 05/18/2011

 
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