Eleanor Roosevelt On Challenge List

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 11, 2006

Of the 21 major public high schools in Prince George's County, one has landed on a national list that gives students and educators bragging rights for pursuit of academic rigor.

Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt ranked 892nd out of the top 1,200 public schools in the nation in a measure of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate test participation, according to Newsweek. The magazine updated the list online this week after publishing it last week.

Neighboring school systems all had multiple entries on the list. The District had four, Anne Arundel County seven. In Montgomery and Fairfax counties, every major high school eligible for the list made it.

New Prince George's schools chief John E. Deasy said this week he will make it a priority to move more county schools onto the list and raise their ratings. He said he plans a variety of initiatives for students, teachers and parents to build an AP-oriented culture.

"It will be several years of work to help change these rankings," Deasy said. "It can and will be done here with success." Both major high schools in the Southern California school district that Deasy led before coming to Prince George's made the Newsweek list: Malibu High (237th) and Santa Monica High (264th).

On Tuesday, Deasy told a group of high school journalists that he intends to roll out a proposal to bolster high-end academic programs within 30 days. It would be one of his first initiatives since taking office May 1.

As of Monday, more than 140 schools in Virginia, Maryland and the District were among Newsweek's top 1,200. Last year, the magazine recognized about 110 schools from the two states and the District.

The schools were measured by participation in AP and IB tests, following a ratio called the Challenge Index, created by Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews. The theory behind the index is that test participation levels show whether schools are pushing students to pursue college-level course work. Critics say the index places too much emphasis on participation and fails to account for achievement.

The index is calculated by dividing the number of AP and IB tests administered in a school in a given year by the number of students in the graduating class. Schools with a ratio of 1 or greater make the list.

The list excludes private schools and some selective public schools.

Across the Washington area, 13 public high schools reached an even more elite level -- the top 100 nationally.

To crack the top 100, a school this year had to have a ratio of at least 3.160 -- the mark recorded by Walter Johnson High in Bethesda. Maryland had four other schools in the top 100, all from Montgomery County: Churchill High in Potomac (74th), Wootton High in Rockville (51st), Bethesda-Chevy Chase High (34th) and Richard Montgomery High in Rockville (15th).

Eight Northern Virginia schools made the top 100: H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program in Arlington (13th), George Mason High in Falls Church (41st), Yorktown High in Arlington (47th), Washington-Lee High in Arlington (52nd), Langley High in McLean (80th), McLean High (85th), W.T. Woodson High in Fairfax (90th) and Centreville High in Clifton (98th).

In the District, the top-ranked school was Woodrow Wilson High (184th). Other top-ranked schools in Washington area counties were Broadneck High (Anne Arundel, 194th), Centennial High (Howard, 217th), Loudoun Valley High (Loudoun, 226th), Leonardtown High (St. Mary's, 367th), McDonough High (Charles, 392nd), Stonewall Jackson High (Prince William, 563rd) and Patuxent High (Calvert, 667th).

The Challenge Index, always controversial, has come under new criticism from a think tank in the District called Education Sector.

"Challenged Index," declares the think tank's Web site, http://www.educationsector.org/ . "Some schools on Newsweek's list of America's Top 100 high schools have large achievement gaps, grossly shortchange disadvantaged groups, and have a substantial number of drop-outs."

In a reply posted with the critique, Mathews wrote that the think tank's data appeared to be accurate. But he defended his index as a simple, easily understood measure of a school's commitment to giving as many students as possible access to college-level curriculum.

Having one college-level test, on average, for every graduating senior was a "modest standard," Mathews wrote, even for schools that face hurdles because they serve students from poor families.

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