kitchen table math, the sequel: Edgemont High School

Monday, May 23, 2011

Edgemont High School

Jay Mathews' Newsweek Challenge Index is now at the Washington Post (very glad to see it survive Newsweek's sale), where it is now called The High School Challenge.

How schools are ranked:
The formula is simple: Divide the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other college-level tests a school gave in 2010 by the number of graduating seniors.
Edgemont High School is ranked 197 in the country, which is not surprising given the high socioeconomic status of its students.

What is surprising - what is astonishing, really - is Edgemont's "Equity and Excellence" score, which gives the percent of graduating seniors who have scored a 3, 4, or 5 on at least one AP exam by graduation: 86.6% of Edgemont's graduating seniors passed at least one AP test.*

Can that possibly be true?

I assume it can, given that Rye and Chappaqua have reported similar scores now or in the recent past. 

Their figures over the past several years are very high compared to the percent most schools - including most affluent suburban schools - post.

*IB scores count, too, but I don't think Edgemont has IB courses.


Anonymous said...

Jay Mathews's methods are complete bunk. See my post at (including some of the comments).

Catherine Johnson said...

I disagree.

The Equity and Excellence percent is meaningful - certainly to me, it's meaningful.

The percent of students passing one AP exam by graduation is important.

Nearly 95% of students here enroll in college, but by graduation only 55% of our kids have passed one AP exam.

What happens over summer that makes the rest of them ready to take a real college course?

Catherine Johnson said...

I just read your post.

I agree about the main ranking. My district gamed the ranking for years by making AP courses open enrollment and requiring all students to take the AP exam, including students who had no hope of passing it. I just got our AP report from last year:

524 total exams were taken
14% 5
22% 4
22% 3
22% 2
21% 1

That 43% fail rate put our school high in the rankings because we had so many students taking tests.

The score to look at is the "Equity and Excellence" score, which is the percent of graduating seniors who have passed at least one AP test (pass meaning 3,4,5).

We have 55% on that score.

Catherine Johnson said...

I had a funny scene with a neighboring principal.

This was after we'd observed the "Global Perspectives" class.

That high school doesn't have open enrollment for AP classes; they have a set of placement criteria that the principal said very accurately predicted who would be able to pass the class & the AP exam.

The principal told us that a few years ago the community had had a "conversation" about open enrollment (I just BET! I've been there for those community conversations!). Then he said he was "proud" of his community because people on both sides of the conversation wanted things to stay the way they were.

(I don't believe that for one second. The only reason a school district has a community conversation is that there's dissension in the ranks.)

Anyway, then he looked meaningfully at our principal and said something to the effect that his high school wasn't trying to climb the high school rankings by having a lot of unprepared kids take the course and fail the exam.

No one in the room (me, another parent, our principal, our college guidance counselor) blinked an eye.

What a scene.

Here was the other principal all but accusing our principal of having gamed the Challenge Index & the accusation just sailed over our heads.

My district does **not** have open enrollment for the Honors courses that would prepare kids for AP courses, btw.

Anonymous said...

The original purpose of AP classes was to provide challenging material for THOSE KIDS WHO HAD ALREADY MASTERED THE HS LEVEL MATERIAL. In other words, they are college-ready one or two years before their age-mates. Naturally, those kids taking the AP classes were highly likely to pass the AP tests and to do well in college. However, the difference was not the AP class itself; the students qualifying for the AP class were DIFFERENT (ability, preparation and/or motivation) from the kids who did not qualify. The same relationship exists for 8th-grade algebra (originally honors-only), foreign languages (other than the one a kid speaks at home), Latin, debate, pre-calc etc.

In my opinion, allowing (let alone encouraging or requiring) unprepared kids into AP classes is a blatant admission that the school is unwilling to provide decent coursework at other levels. Not all kids are the same. Only in academics is the one-size-fits-all model embraced; in athletics and in music, knowledge and skills determine who makes varsity and who starts, who makes the concert band and who has first chair. The swim team doesn't include dog-paddlers and the debate team doesn't include those who can't handle huge amounts of research and think FAST on their feet; AP Euro shouldn't include those who don't know the difference between the Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire.

The school my older kids attended is very highly ranked on the Challenge Index but it is a reflection of its student population, not of its open policies. According to its website, it still requires the appropriate honors-level course prior to the AP course; first the strongest HS-level class, then the college-level class. The APs are taught at a real college level, including lab time for the sciences (double period every day). Insofar as space/qualified teachers exist, I'm happy to let almost anyone into the honors classes, as long as those who can't/won't do the work are washed out, so the basic integrity of the class is not compromised for those who can and will do the work. Unfortunately, the same PC issues that are driving the AP-for-all bus also drive the honors-for-all bus; whites and Asians tend to predominate at the honors-AP level.

momof4 said...

Only scores of 3-4-5 should be counted and they should be weighted individually, but that would remove many schools from the list. Schools that restrict AP classes to kids likely to get 5s are being too restrictive, but schools that admit/fail to remove kids unlikely to get a 3 are being too open. Some schools, like the one my older kids attended, should have almost the whole school taking AP classes and passing the test but some others are unlikely to have many/any kids capable of AP-level work. A regular commenter on the Washington Post website says most of the kids in his AP English classes read at no more than a 5th-grade level, but the county requires everyone to take an AP class, as if that would magically solve a problem that has been 12 years in the making.

momof4 said...

The original intent of AP classes was to provide challenging, college-level coursework FOR THOSE KIDS WHO HAD ALREADY MASTERED THE HS COURSEWORK. Such kids were, and are, different (ability, preparation and/or motivation) from their age-mates because they are ready for college-level material a year or two early. The AP courses did not cause/create that difference;they merely reflected it. The same issue exists for 8th-grade algebra, Latin, pre-calc, debate etc.

Only in academics is there the one-size-fits-all pretense. In the reality-based worlds of athletics and music, knowledge and skill determines who makes the varsity and who starts and who makes the concert band and who is first chair. The swim team doesn't accept dog-paddlers.

I checked the website of my older kids' HS, which is highly ranked on the Index; a reflection of the student population (almost 90% E&E). It still has the honors-level prerequisite for all AP classses, which really are college-level, including lab time for all sciences (double periods every day). In other words, kids have to master the HS work before they get to do college work.

Catherine Johnson said...

You have almost 90% E&E???


My high school should have the same figure or close to.

What part of the country do you live in (unless that's too personal).

90 to 95% of students from my high school enroll in college after graduation, so to have only 55% of them passing one AP test....

momof4 said...

Huge ERROR ALERT; the E&E was within 5 points of 80 (plus/minus), NOT almost 90. I obviously misread the numbers. It is one of three similar schools in the Montgomery County, MD suburbs of DC, where four other schools have at least 60% and which are ranked higher because more kids take the APs. I'm not sure now, but some of those used to lack the honors prerequisite.

I'm also pretty sure that the rankings would be different if only 3-4-5s were counted and separately weighted. At my kids' old school, many very good students took many honors classes (including pre-calc and the sciences) but didn't take the AP and those kids were (and I'm sure still are) perfectly ready for college-level work at competitive colleges. I feel that equating an AP class with college readiness is a mistake; a good college-prep program in HS should prepare kids for college. APs are supposed to be real college classes and I'd like to see a return to that idea.

The kids taking the APs finished the honors classes 1-3 years earlier and often started college with sophomore standing. Even if the math/science majors didn't skip the intro classes, using AP scores to meet distribution requirements or jump to the next higher class in areas outside of their major was the norm. My kids all had enough APs to amount to over 30 credits and did a combination of both options.

Parker said...

"90 to 95% of students from my high school enroll in college after graduation, so to have only 55% of them passing one AP test...."

What do you mean by college? The AP tests are generally harder than your average junior college class or classes at lower level colleges. At my school, many students opt for dual-credit english at the local junior college over AP because they will get credit. Many students who do not put the effort into AP courses in high school (or have a tough time with the classes) often go on to get college degrees.

You can also game the EE rating if you have the right demographics. My school is in the top 40 on the list and has a good EE rating. Of course most of the 3, 4 and 5 come from the Spanish Language test. Imagine that, a bunch of native Spanish speakers passing the Spanish language test. Many don't even take a class; they just show up for the test. I think we have about 15% who actually make it to a college degree. Top 40 school though!

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that the CA state college systems similarly game the anti-affirmative-action admissions process by allowing SAT II results to be used instead of SAT Is. Have the native Spanish speakers take the SAT II Spanish test and, hey, they're Berkeley material!