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Posted at 3:42 PM ET, 11/ 5/2009

My response to Jay's response on the 'Challenge Index'

By Valerie Strauss

Dear Jay,

I, um, well, I’m shattered to hear that you have rejected my forgiveness. I’m just glad I wasn’t offering any, because then I would really feel lousy.

I was asking YOU to forgive ME me for blaming YOU for what school administrators have told ME they have done for years because of YOUR Challenge Index.

Your post detailing the growth of Advanced Placement and your role in it is really terrific. You make strong points; indeed, AP would have grown without your index because it does, indeed, offer a useful challenge to high school students.

Of course, later in your argument, you do take some credit, as you should, for AP's growth in the majority of schools that are not affluent. These are places where fewer kids take AP because, you said, most students go "to state four-year colleges or community colleges that don't cause much strain for high school students trying to get into them." The AP program is introduced in these schools, you said, because educators realize that it is the average high school students who benefit most from taking rigorous courses.

Well, it is true community colleges are easy to get into, especially with open-admissions policies. But state four-year colleges and universities? A lot of them, especially flagships, have become much more difficult for average students.

What I've heard high school educators complain about is that not all students are prepared to do college level work in high school. Many are; many aren't. But there is pressure to get more kids into these classes, whether they are up to it or not.

Because I did not quote any administrator who derided the index as a factor in curriculum decisions does not mean they do not exist. Believe me, I have many old notebooks full of quotes from teachers and administrators about the effect the index has had on school offerings. That they didn’t tell you is not particularly surprising.

The following is from a Post news story our colleague Dan DeVise wrote last year about 2008 index :

"Not everyone approves of the list, which is at the center of a movement toward embracing AP and IB as national standards for rigorous high school instruction. Some critics say the Challenge Index is too simplistic a measure of a school; others say it has fostered an unhealthy obsession with raising the numbers of children involved in AP and IB study.

"But Montgomery parents follow the rankings closely and are quick to chastise schools that appear to slip, particularly higher-performing schools in Bethesda, Potomac and Rockville."

Though I still don't think a single measure can tell how challenging anything is, my original point was not to criticize the index.

It was, in fact, to ask educators to look at their own responsibility in whatever they see as the ills of public education today--even while many problems have been caused by policymakers who make education laws without understanding education.

As I said earlier, I wasn’t bestowing forgiveness. I was asking for yours.

Fondest regards,

By Valerie Strauss  | November 5, 2009; 3:42 PM ET
Tags:  Challenge Index  
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I have no comment.

Posted by: popopo | November 5, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

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