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Betting Against a Big Drop in Graduation Rates

Dear Extra Credit:

A side effect of the High School Assessments requirement in Maryland will be that the Challenge Index rank will improve significantly for Maryland public schools, even though the schools might not have improved. Consider, for example, a school that has a graduating class of 500 students and 1,000 AP tests completed. The Challenge Index would be 1000/500, or 2.000. That school would rank around 513 in the Newsweek list, based on 2008 numbers.

Now, reduce the number of graduating seniors in that school by 10 percent, to 450. The Challenge Index would be 1000/450, or 2.220. The school's rank would improve to about 395. Suddenly, Maryland schools will look better in the rankings, with the historically poorest-performing schools showing the greatest improvement in rank. Will the Challenge Index formula be modified so that the effect of the High School Assessments on the graduation rate is taken into account?
Louis Wilen

This is an interesting argument, but I don't think it is going to happen that way, for two reasons: First, I doubt there will be a significant decline in the number of seniors putting on robes and mortarboards and striding proudly across a stage. Maryland students who flunk the state tests, for instance, can still get a diploma if they do well on an alternative project. Second, schools that rank high on the Challenge Index, which measures college-course test participation, are run by educators who work very hard to get everyone ready for college. That raises, not lowers, graduation rates. I have bet $20 for your favorite charity, Magruder High's Parent-Teacher-Student Association, that you will be wrong. If I win, Magruder still gets the money, but I get the credit.

Dear Extra Credit:

I am responding to Rob Weinkle's Oct. 23 inquiry ["Questioning the Benefits of Preschool for the Middle Class"] regarding how to motivate teachers to save paper. As a former high school principal, I dealt with this problem and, as a professor of education leadership, have discussed it with my students.

One solution is to give teachers proper incentives. In my high school, departments had a great deal of control over budget expenditures. I allocated money to them for the year. They were required to make the amount work. We moved paper from an administrative expenditure to a departmental expenditure. Teachers had to choose between purchasing paper and other materials. Paper costs did not diminish, but they did not increase, either. Also, because paper prices fluctuate greatly, like crude oil, we purchased in large quantities to take advantage of lower per-unit costs.
S. David Brazer
George Mason University

Dear Extra Credit:

Two of the paper-saving tactics used by my late wife were, (a) always copy on both sides of the paper, and (b) instead of making paper copies of tests and distributing them to students, putting the tests on overhead projectors for the students to read and respond to.
Gerald Mann

Thanks for these practical suggestions. Some readers called this topic trivial, but it is not. I use so much printer paper that a colleague has pasted a picture of me on my cubicle's outside wall with a sign saying "JAY TREE KILLER." I needed this.

Dear Extra Credit:

Regarding the Oct. 30 column ["In the Real World, Advanced Math Doesn't Always Add Up"], I have had a concern about the Virginia requirements for the General Educational Development credential. An acquaintance in her late 40s is trying to pass her GED test and doing just fine, except for math. I think that knowing the rudiments of math, maybe some consumer math, is fine but that the math she is required to study seems ridiculous. Lack of a GED certificate is keeping her from obtaining a better-paying job. A better job would give her more spending money, requiring her to pay more taxes and be a benefit to us all.
Priscilla Sheeley

If GED experts out there think this high school equivalency test demands more math than is needed in most workplaces, I hope they will write to me. My fear is that if we change the test so your friend can pass it, that will reduce the confidence in the GED among employers, and she still won't get that better-paying job.

Dear Extra Credit:

As the grandparent of a recent International Baccalaureate graduate, I am amazed at the apparent reluctance of college admission officials to recognize the full implications of the IB program. If the purpose of a college education is to get students to think, to question and to explore the areas of their fields of study, then a college that enrolls an IB student is indeed fortunate.

Goucher College is one that recognizes the benefit of enrolling such a student, and it offers a merit scholarship. Even when all the moans and groans of the student while undergoing the rigors of the program are history, the graduate probably doesn't realize the intangible benefits that have accrued. At the college level, results of those benefits indicate the value of the IB program.
Stanley M. Levy
Silver Spring

Goucher is a fine college, but like many other schools, it needs to fix its system for granting course credit for IB. At the moment, it is not giving credit for one-year IB courses and can't explain to me why.

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 526 King St., Suite 515, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Or e-mail

By Washington Post Editors  | December 4, 2008; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Extra Credit  
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Next: Advanced Math Is a Challenge. What's Wrong With That?

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