That tactic succeeded brilliantly, particularly in wealthy suburban schools like mine, which presumably adopted open enrollment sometime after the Challenge Index came into being. In the years that I've been reading the list, Irvington High School has typically ranked amongst the top 200 high schools in the country. Of course, since nobody reads the fine print, people assumed the Challenge Index was actually an Achievement Index: a ranking of how well students do on the test.
Last year Mathews finally bowed to reality:
The minute I saw that Coolidge High School in the District had given a startling 750 Advanced Placement tests last May, and that only 2 percent of those exams had received passing scores, I knew I was in trouble.That second paragraph doesn't hold for affluent school districts, where you have winner-take-all placement mechanisms (scroll down) that produce an enormous pent-up demand for AP courses in college-bound students who have been tracked out of Honors. In that case, when a principal decides that AP courses will take all comers, the community assumes that pushy parents have pressured the school into letting unprepared students take AP courses they don't belong in.
Some readers have argued that the Challenge Index is an invitation to unscrupulous principals to stuff students into AP and create a false aura of academic success, but I don't think that is possible. Teachers, parents and students have to accept the AP courses as valid, as many of them have at Coolidge. A principal who tried such a scheme without community support would soon be looking for another job.
Why I Changed the Challenge Index
Thursday, December 11, 2008; 9:45 AM
When students fail the AP test, that is confirmation that pushy parents have had their way with the principal.
This year, the Challenge Index includes a new number for "Equity & Excellence": the percentage of all graduating seniors, including those who never got near an AP course, who had at least one score of 3 or above on at least one AP test sometime in high school. Irvington's Equity & Excellence figure is 58. Our ranking this year is #241. Meanwhile Hastings, two towns over, has 73% of graduating seniors passing at least one AP test in their high school career & a ranking of 353.
More than 90% of Irvington graduating seniors enroll in college; 58% pass one AP test in their high school years.
bonus factoid: Scarsdale has 60% of graduating seniors passing at least one AP test without offering any AP courses for the past two years. I hate to even imagine how much more tutoring those parents are paying for (scroll down).