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High School Challenge methodology

The High School Challenge ranks schools through an index invented by Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews. The index formula is a simple ratio: the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and other college-level tests given at a school in 2011, divided by the number of graduates that year. Also noted in our national and local tables is the percentage of students eligible for government meal subsidies, a common benchmark for poverty. This year, for the first time, the list includes some private schools for comparison, marked with a (P). Certain public schools with highly selective admissions are omitted from the list, but information about them can be found online, along with full national lists, at

Mathews and Post researcher Bonnie Smith, working with local innovations editor James Buck, canvassed schools across the nation for data used to assemble the rankings. The Post’s Jason Bartz provided digital development support.

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