Welcoming a new school rating
My clever colleague Valerie Strauss suggested readers come up with alternatives to my high school rating system, the Challenge Index. On Feb. 20 she posted an intriguing suggestion by Montgomery County parent Louis Wilen, which she dubbed the Wilen Index, on how to move school rankings to a new level. This was smart because not only did it reveal she was working on Saturday, and thus winning our editors' untold devotion (I was at the supermarket with the other househusbands), but it showed how easily and cheaply I can be replaced.
Wilen, who has also favored me with some wise emails, showed a way we could use the trend toward rating schools under federal and state law by measuring how much students improve each year. Since the PSAT has become a popular tool for getting high school ninth and tenth graders ready for college-entrance tests (and seeing what kind of high school courses they might be ready for), he suggested that we take the average for all PSAT tests given tenth graders at each high school and compare it to their average SAT scores when they are in 12th grade. Subtract the 10th grade average from the 12th grade average and you see how much value that school has added.
It is an idea whose time may come. At the moment, however, we don't have PSAT or SAT scores for every student at a school. The students not bound for college who are least likely to be tested are the ones most likely to have low scores, so leaving them out would distort the Wilen Index. But we may get to the point where these tests are required, as some Midwestern states now require that all students take the ACT, and we can then experiment with Wilen idea.
He inspired an idea of my own. Why not take the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a new essay exam that measures analysis and critical thinking, and apply it to high schools. Some colleges give it to all of their freshmen, and then again to that class when they are seniors, and see how much value their professors at that college have added. We could do the same for high schools, with maybe a somewhat less strenuous version. That would still be to me more useful than comparing multiple choice tests like the PSAT and SAT.
Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.
| February 22, 2010; 3:54 PM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: Challenge Index, Collegiate Learning, Collegiate Learning Assessment, Louis Wilen, Wilen Index, using PSAT and SAT to rate schools
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