Alternatives to the Challenge Index

May 19, 2011

The Washington Post’s Challenge Index, begun in 1998, is certainly not the only way to rank high schools. Here is a quick survey of some others:

In 2007, U.S. News & World Report launched a high school list as part of its expanded rankings of several American institutions, inspired by its popular college rankings that began in 1983.

U.S. News used a three-step analysis in partnership with researchers affiliated with Standard & Poor’s. First, find high schools that did better than expected on state tests, given their percentage of students from low-income families. Then, determine whether their economically disadvantaged, black and Hispanic students did better than the average for those groups on the tests.

Schools that survived those two screens were further evaluated through formulas based on participation and success in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests. The top 100 schools were ranked and awarded gold medals. Schools below that group were given silver or bronze medals or honorable mention but were not ranked beyond that.

Standard & Poor’s stopped participating after the most recent U.S. News list was published in late 2009, U.S. News data research director Robert Morse said.

In late 2007, the Wall Street Journal published a ranked list of 65 high schools based on the percentage of graduates who enrolled at eight selective colleges: Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Pomona, Princeton, Swarthmore, the University of Chicago and Williams. This was a facebook list but had nothing do with the social networking service of that name. It was based in part on information from the facebooks colleges publish with photos of the new freshman class.

Worth magazine attempted a similar list in 2003, rating high schools on the percentage of recent graduates who turned up in the freshmen facebooks of three Ivy League colleges: Harvard, Yale and Princeton. The Worth and Journal lists consisted mostly of private schools. There were six public schools in Worth’s top 100 and six in the Journal’s top 65.

The highest-ranked school on the Journal’s list was the private Collegiate School in New York City, where 13 of 50 graduating seniors enrolled in the eight colleges, a 26 percent success rate. The highest-ranked Washington area schools were private Holton-Arms in Montgomery County, No. 31 with 10.8 percent; Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County (one of the list’s few public schools, although highly selective), No. 47 with 9.1 percent; and private Sidwell Friends, No. 55 with 8.5 percent.

It is also worth noting that Newsweek is conducting research for another high school ranking project, unaffiliated with the High School Challenge. In a message to schools, the magazine said it was devising a new methodology based on expert advice but did not give many details.

— Jay Mathews

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