Dear Extra Credit:

I'm concerned that the school board will once again delay the rebuilding of Richard Montgomery High School. Construction is supposed to begin in July, but I searched the County Council's 2005 capital budget and could not find a specific allocation for this project. I read the article about overcrowding at Montgomery Blair ["Relief is Absent at Crowded Md. School," Metro, Sept. 19] and wondered why someone has not written about Richard Montgomery.

The facility is extremely overcrowded (the amount of time between classes has been extended several times to allow students to make it to class on time), and deteriorating-falling ceiling tiles, water damage and mold abound. It failed the last Middle States Association of College and Schools evaluation. Residents of the Twinbrook neighborhood have gathered petitions urging MCPS to begin the reconstruction as planned. We've collected signatures from about 20 percent of the neighborhood and would have gotten more but ran out of time.

Alison Moser

Twinbrook Citizens

Association

Rockville

As you know, many people want to live and educate their children in Montgomery County, and it is hard to keep up with the growing need for more classrooms. Montgomery County schools spokeswoman Kate Harrison says the Richard Montgomery High School modernization project, like all such building plans in the county, had to be delayed two years because of lack of money and rising costs. But the money is in the Board of Education's capital improvements plan, as approved by the County Council in May. The work is scheduled to begin next summer and be completed by September 2007.

Many people have asked the board to speed this up, but Harrison said it decided in 2002 to give priority to projects that provided more space for the 2,700 additional students they were seeing every year rather than accelerate modernization projects such as the one at Richard Montgomery.

Dear Extra Credit:

In formulating the Challenge Index, you are taking on a very important problem. Parents face a difficult challenge in deciding where to send their children to school. However, I think your Challenge Index has a serious flaw that limits its usefulness. As you know, the index equals the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and other college-level tests divided by the number of graduating seniors. The problem with it can be illustrated by the following example:

School A

School B

Graduates 500

1,000

Dropouts 500

0

College-Level Tests 500

750

Challenge Index 1.000

0.750

If both schools serve similar kids -- kids with similar test scores and family backgrounds -- then it is clear that School B is doing a better job than School A because more students graduate from School B and more college-level tests are taken at School B. However, the Challenge Index is higher for school A.

The problem with your index is that it effectively rewards high schools for giving up on students who are not bound for college. High schools could boost the value of their Challenge Index by encouraging students who aren't likely to take college-level tests to drop out of school.

Put differently, if high schools with low graduation rates try to raise them, the values of their Challenge Index are likely to fall because the students at risk of dropping out are less likely to take college courses than kids who are certain to graduate.

Rob Olsen

Silver Spring

This is a helpful critique of The Post's Challenge Index rating of local high schools, which will appear again in the Extra in December. The problem you cite is theoretically possible, but there are no schools in the county, or the country for that matter, that serve similar students and have dropout rates as different as your schools A and B. School B is a typical large suburban school. School A is fiction -- schools with that many dropouts have too many other problems to worry about fooling the Challenge Index.