Dear Extra Credit:

In your Aug. 25 column, you describe the Challenge Index as a way to "see which high schools are doing a good job in preparing students for college," and you "invite anyone interested in this subject to show me a better way to measure this." How about multiplying the Challenge Index by the average AP test score? Then you would be measuring results as much as effort. It is one thing to "challenge" students and another to help them meet the challenge.

Michael I. Bell


This is an interesting idea. It makes the index harder to understand, but test scores are important. In December I will report not only the Challenge Index rating but the College Board's new Equity and Excellence rate for each Washington-area school. That is the percentage of seniors who had at least one grade of 3 or above on at least one of the five-point AP exams while they were in high school.

Dear Extra Credit:

I've read with interest the comments concerning student internships. As both an independent educational consultant and a teacher in Montgomery County public schools I straddle the line on this issue.

Colleges often want it both ways, and therefore each candidate will be judged on his or her own merits. If the internship supplements the academic credentials, it is a positive. I once asked an admissions counselor at Vanderbilt, "What really excites you about an applicant?" Without batting an eye, she said: "Research." So clearly a research internship for a strong candidate could be a real plus.

On the other hand, I recently met with a student who wanted to pursue a career in medicine and wanted to take a senior medical internship for half a day. This young man's science credentials were so weak, it was clear he would, at best, be able to find an internship filing papers in a doctor's office. I suggested he drop the internship idea and take chemistry in his senior year.

Eliot Applestein

North Bethesda

Blake High School teacher

Thanks very much for this wise assessment.

Dear Extra Credit:

I saw a letter to the column that prompts me to write, not with questions but with a couple of comments.

My two children participated in and greatly benefited from programs in Montgomery County for "gifted and talented" students, but the GT designation always bothered me. I asked school officials why the programs couldn't simply be named for their content, leaving students, parents and school officials to decide whether the programs were desirable for a particular student at a particular time.

The system's fourth- and fifth-grade centers, for example, could be called "Centers for Accelerated Instruction." Earlier in the school career of one of my children, when he needed extra help with reading, he wasn't labeled "ungifted and untalented." He was just offered a program that was right for him at that point in his education. All students have gifts and talents. It's inaccurate and disrespectful to suggest otherwise.

On the subjects of the writing portion of the new SAT and the college application essay, I offer a modest proposal: Institute a new SAT II test, an essay test that lasts one hour (half an hour to plan and half an hour to write?) and uses creative essay prompts that can elicit somewhat personal responses. Do not grade the essay. Photocopy it and send it to the colleges to which the student has applied. Eliminate the college application essay. Think of the hundreds of thousands of hours this would save, and how much fairer it might be.

Elizabeth J. Samuels

Silver Spring

I share your view about the term "gifted and talented" and like your suggested substitute, since accelerating instruction is an important part of what the centers are doing. There is a heated debate about gifted and talented programs underway in the Fairfax County version of this column, and if Montgomery County readers want to add their thoughts, they would be welcome.

As for the SAT, as you know there already is an SAT II writing test. I am not sure the overburdened college admissions officers would be pleased to get it not graded, forcing them actually to read it. But in some cases, it would come in handy to see if the essay the student submitted with his application was significantly, and suspiciously, better than the SAT essay that he had to have written by himself.