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Posted at 5:30 AM ET, 01/21/2011

No dual enrollment on Challenge Index this year

By Jay Mathews

On the forms I have been sending to high schools this year for my annual Challenge Index, I said I would try to count local college final exams taken by their students, as well as the usual Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge exams, in calculating the rankings. Some high schools have been requesting this. I thought it might work as we move the annual list this year from to

But having read the responses I have been getting from high school principals and advanced program coordinators, I have decided not to add this new element to the list this year. Many educators said it would be difficult to get the data I need about what are often called dual enrollment or concurrent enrollment course final exams.

I wanted to know, for instance, how long the exams were and whether free response questions were asked. Many high school officials did not know the answer to those questions and said the colleges often could not tell them without contacting each professor, something they did not have the time or resources to do. Some high school officials said they thought the local college offerings didn't match up to AP, IB or Cambridge and would lower the standard of the annual list.

I have been rating public high schools since 1998 based on their level of participation in college-level exams. I wanted to break away from rating high schools by average test scores, which measures not the quality of the school but the income levels of the parents. Looking at college level test participation was a way of assessing how hard school staffs work to prepare as many students as possible for college by having them take college level courses and exams.

Dual enrollment or concurrent enrollment courses taught by local college faculty are part of that national effort to raise high school standards, but those programs do not spend much time collecting and releasing information on what they are doing. Local colleges often do not tell the high schools much about the final exams they give their students. AP, IB and the Cambridge organization by contrast send each high school a detailed report, and release samples of their exams which have free response questions that require human graders.

I am not sure what to do about the difficulty in gathering information on dual enrollment. I am open to any and all ideas. Some major universities monitor these courses. They may be in a position to provide good data. But these are regional, not national systems. Their quality varies.

Some high school educators and college admission deans who have had close contact with AP and IB and with local dual enrollment programs say they are not comparable. An advanced programs coordinator for a Texas school district told me this month that "there is absolutely no comparison between the rigor of our AP and IB classes and our dual credit classes. Dual credit in many cases is not any more difficult than a regular-level class. The rigor just depends on the instructor that our junior college sends."

I am telling the high schools that I will not be sending them a second form to report their dual enrollment offerings, at least not this year. I don't want them using valuable staff time to try to dig the information out of the colleges as the spring deadline for the national list approaches. Well-funded high schools with extra staff would have an unfair advantage in that race, and I don't want that.

I know from the schools' answers to the main form which might be interested in trying to report their dual enrollment data. After I do more research, I may give them a chance to do so in the future. The absence of good information about dual and concurrent enrollment programs is a problem for all educators trying to improve the way we prepare students for college. I welcome comments here, or emails (, from educators who work with these programs and understand their differences and similarities.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | January 21, 2011; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Trends  | Tags:  AICE tests, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, concurrent enrollment, dual enrollment, Challenge Index  
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Jay ... Why don't you do what you really want to do and only put IB schools on your list?

Posted by: getjiggly2 | January 21, 2011 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Do the advanced math courses like Multivariable Calculus and Matrix Algebra (for those who took Calculus BC as juniors) count? These are not offered by AP but are college-level and are offered by the high schools. It seems the schools should be able to have that information pretty accessible.

Posted by: MG14 | January 21, 2011 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Please don't forget the foundational principle for your Challenge Index: how well schools do in offering opportunity to those without the inherent advantages of economic prosperity. It's all well and good to try and include all challenges students may attempt, but the basic function of your metric must remain helping disadvantaged students. This can be done with your E&E factor.

My suggestion is to take the Index as calculated today and multiply it by ten times the E&E factor. That way schools with larger numbers of poor students will be lifted higher in your Index. And it's the opportunity afforded those students that should be trumpeted - not the extras that better off students get at our wealthy suburban schools.

Posted by: LoveIB | January 21, 2011 7:53 AM | Report abuse

I agree with you Jay. although I am sure there are some junior college courses which are rigorous, the vast majority of them are easy A's for AP students simply padding the grade point average to become valedictorian or apply to college. There is little competition in the junior college classroom for these students. some students pass on taking rigorous AP courses in high school opting instead to take less challenging junior college courses. This is not what the challenge index is about.

Posted by: Hrod1 | January 21, 2011 9:39 AM | Report abuse

for gertfiggly2---take a look at my book Class Struggle, after which this blug is named, and tell me how anyone could think I would want to exclude AP (or AICE for that matter.)

For LoveIB---Thanks for getting the essential point. But I am also concerned that the academic experience those students get do prepare them for college, and there is some evidence that a lot of dual enrollment courses don't do that very well.

Hrod1---thanks for the comment. I am struggling to figure out how to credit just the community college courses that set a high standard. I wonder if I should limit credit to those courses where I can see a sample final exam.

Posted by: jaymathews | January 21, 2011 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Wait a minute. Aren't dual enrollment classes regular college classes, the same ones the students would be taking at these colleges if they entered after high-school graduation? In past blogs, college instructors have complained that AP courses don't prepare students for college work, but now a Texas high school official says the dual enrollment classes are much less rigorous than AP classes? And according to Hrod1, junior college classes, which in Ohio at least are accepted for full transfer credit by 4-year state colleges, are just a means of padding a transcript.

This can't all be true. And, by the way, has anyone noticed no students are being quoted as to the value of these programs?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | January 21, 2011 3:10 PM | Report abuse

sideswiththekids, excellent point. I'd love to know how the students feel about AP/IB vs. college dual enrollment. Jay seems to talk to surprisingly few students, all things considered.

As someone who has served as both a student advisor and a TA, my experience is the kids who did dual enrollment did better than the AP kids. The biggest problems I saw in first year college students taking second year courses was the inability to properly read and manage a course syllabus (never mind juggling 3 or 4!); they're not prepared for the lack of hand-holding. No one is reminding them to read, no one is reminding them that papers are due, no one is walking them down to the library to do research.

On the whole, students who did dual enrollment were far more prepared to deal with those challenges, because they had already experienced it into intro-level classes. College, of any sort, is a dramatically different world than high school. AP may be "rigorous" (although I'd dispute that) but it does a lousy job of getting students ready for the realities of college. Worse, I feel it frequently gives students a misplaced confidence in their ability to handle second-year college work.

If my kid came to me and said "I can do AP or dual enrollment, but not both. Which should I do?" it would be an incredibly easy choice to make.

Posted by: RedBirdie | January 21, 2011 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, RedBirdie. My high school didn't have any dual enrollment--that program is too recent. But my mother was a returning student from the time I was in junior high, and during summers or when my school was closed, I would go to campus with her and either read in the library or, if the professor allowed, sit in on her classes. Finally a professor told my mother that I could take classes for credit as soon as I was 16, if my principal would attest to my ability. He wasn't happy about it, but since he had been recommending me for honors classes and Saturday seminars all along, he couldn't very well say I wasn't capable. I took two regular history survey courses during the summer sessions; I got an A in the first one and a B in the second. I don't think the professors were ever aware that I was not a regular college students. When I entered that college after high school, I had full credit for those courses, but during the school year between the courses I still had to sit through a high-school history class. I would have loved dual enrollment.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | January 21, 2011 5:25 PM | Report abuse

For sideswiththekids---A good point, but keep in mind we are not comparing AP or IB to general college courses but INTRO college courses, usually those taken in the first two years before the student starts to specialize. The dual enrollment courses are in the same category .

For RedBirdie---Also a good point, but I have interviewed lots of kids on their perception of AP and IB---whole books about such kids, actually--and what you get is that they think they helped them a lot. I have also done some interviews with dual enrollment kids, who say the same. Their impressions dont give us much to judge on, particularly because I am never going to be able to interview a statistically significant sample. But we do have some research, mostly out of Texas, that compares the college success of dual enrollment to AP kids who have similar standardized test scores, and that rssearch indicates the dual enrollment do not do as well in college. We need more research.

Posted by: jaymathews | January 21, 2011 5:43 PM | Report abuse

getjiggly2 - Badda-bing! ;-)

Jay's just depressed that because of the Newsweek fire sale, the magazine won't be carrying his precious List anymore and his ridiculous, inaccurate, biased ranking of schools won't carry the PR weight with schools nationally, as it has in the past.

Posted by: lisamc31 | January 22, 2011 12:29 AM | Report abuse

Ha, ha.

Jay blesses any school that pretends to teach illiterates college courses in high school, but draws the line at actual college courses? Because he can't know about their tests? When his index doesn't even take test results into consideration?

Puhleeez. I'm no fan of college courses, but the idea that they are less reliable than AP courses without the tests?

Joke, right?

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | January 22, 2011 1:10 AM | Report abuse

"not comparing AP or IB to general college courses but INTRO college courses, usually those taken in the first two years before the student starts to specialize."

Are you saying these aren't REAL college courses? You could make the same argument that senior college courses don't indicate ability or learning because they aren't graduate courses. College courses are college courses. Upper level courses don't require more reading or writing ability or better study habits; they simply require more background knowledge of the subject. In some cases, they require much more independent work simply because they are larger than higher-level classes and there is less contact with the professor, although this depends on the size of the college. Personally, I only had one large class as a freshman. Presumably, students will demonstrate more ability later on simply because they have had two years of thinking, reading, and writing on a college level and have more ideas on which to base their opinions, but this is not a given.)

Actually, I found the first two years much more challenging than my last two. I had to take a lot of required courses outside my major at first; once I finished all the required science, phys ed, and philosophy courses and could concentrate on my major and electives that caught my interest, there might have been more papers and more thinking required, but it was a lot easier!

Posted by: sideswiththekids | January 22, 2011 9:39 AM | Report abuse

for sideswiththekids---Your point is a good one. I am not saying they are not real college courses. They are, designed and monitored by college professors in those fields to make sure they mimic what is being taught in real colleges. I make the point about intro courses because many readers have tried to compare AP or IB to what they got in their junior or senior years of college, and that is not a useful comparison.
As for Cal, the list has not appeared in Newsweek magazine for three years. It has been exclusively an online feature, and since it is moving to a Web site with much more traffic than Newsweek's, we have hopes for the same great volume of readers we had last year.

Posted by: jaymathews | January 22, 2011 11:50 AM | Report abuse

The best thing you could do for your Challenge Index, Mathews, would be to throw it in the trash. Rating schools based on your criteria is tabloid journalism. That you write it and the Washington Post will publish it is disgraceful to journalism and education.

Posted by: pensaed | January 22, 2011 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Um, Jay, what does your answer have to do with my comment? I didn't mention Newsweek, readers, or anything else you seem to think I did.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | January 22, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I think you missed a couple of points people were making. AP/IB as you stated are comparable to INTRO college courses, which the dual enrollment classes tend to be. sideswithkids wasn't discussing 3rd and 4th year college courses.

Also, it seems you are stating the tests are key, not the community college courses themselves. Why? I would assume course descriptions along with ability to transfer those credits to a 4 year university would suffice. i.e. if a Fairfax high school offers NOVA community college's intro English class, and those NOVA classes are transferable to UVA, Tech or other State universities, then I believe you have proved they are worthy (Especially in cases where UVA and Tech don't take scores of 3 or 4 on AP and 5 or 6 on IB)
All of this just kind of proves the futility of the Challenge Index. To simply take that one person's comment that dual enrollment classes aren't rigorous since it depends on the instructor..well, that is true of AP and IB. Even with your supposed new way of looking at passing rates, you still give schools credit for just giving the tests, stating the experience is enough for students receiving scores of 2, or even 1. Thus, wouldn't the experience of a college class be enough? Especially since there is no one marking them absent, reminding them of what to do (once they receive the syllabus they are on their own) nor stating, as in AP/IB what the test will be like. Most college courses don't give out test exemplars, so in actuality the dual enrollment courses do a better job of showing what college will be like.

Posted by: researcher2 | January 22, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Question: Have I misunderstood the dual enrollment classes being talked about? I was under the impression that dual enrollment students take regular college classes and receive both high school and college credit for them. Is this what we are talking about, or does dual enrollment mean special classes at the high schools taught by college professors. If they are special classes taught at the high school and no one but high school students are in them, it's might be that dual enrollment students are not working at a college level. If the students go to the community college, as I believe they do here in Ohio, take regular college classes, and mingle with college students, then they are standard college classes and there should be no question about their rigor or the students' ability.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | January 22, 2011 6:45 PM | Report abuse

sideswiththekids, I believe also that dual enrollment means taking courses at the college; hope I didn't confuse things when I said if a "high school offers" the college class; I meant offers it as an option for a high school student, not that it would be taught at the high school.

That is why I question Jay's reasoning

Posted by: researcher2 | January 22, 2011 9:06 PM | Report abuse

sideswiththekids, I believe also that dual enrollment means taking courses at the college; hope I didn't confuse things when I said if a "high school offers" the college class; I meant offers it as an option for a high school student, not that it would be taught at the high school.

That is why I question Jay's reasoning

Posted by: researcher2 | January 22, 2011 9:07 PM | Report abuse

For Cal---ooops, sorry. That was lisamc31. I must find a way to read this small type more easily. I apologize to you. Lisa was the one trying to taunt me about the Newsweek sale.

For researcher2---Unfortunately Some dual enrollment courses prove to be of low quality, just as some AP and IB courses do, mostly because the teachers do not hold up the standards of the courses, for what may be many reasons---student resistance, parent resistance, official instructions, their own doubts about the worth of the course, etc. But if the AP or IB student takes the AP or IB final exam, then we at least have a way of showing how many students did not master the course, and can address the issue. That is why I count exams, not courses, with the Challenge Index, because courses without exams do not have that useful check. Same goes with the dual enrollment courses. I know you will be shocked, shocked, to learn that some college courses are useless guts, but it is true. I am looking for some way to measure if there is a built-in check on that, like AP or IB tests. I may start giving credit for dual enrollment if I can see the exam, and if the exam in not graded by a high school employee who could be pressured to grade too easily.

For sideswiththe kids---some dual enrollment courses are taught at the college and some at the high school, but in both cases they are accredited college courses. The courses taught at the high school, to be true dual enrollment, have to be the same courses that college kids can take at the college, or they do not fit the definition, at least as I see it. If the course is taught at the high school but by college teachers independent of the school district, that is fine with me. I do have a problem with dual enrollment courses taught by high school teachers with no independently written and scored exam, because that does create a situation where the exam could be dumbed down without detection.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 23, 2011 11:43 PM | Report abuse

Disappointing news indeed. Once again Jay your insistence on college-credit-by-exam is frustrating. Never in my college experience was my performance judged solely on a 2.5 hour exam; final exams never counted more than 50% of my grade, and rarely that. College faculty, including those teaching high school students, judge student mastery of a semester's worth of skills development and content knowledge based on multiple authentic assessments including labs, oral presentations, quizzes, papers, group projects, homework assignments, problem sets, and yes, exams.

The old adage "What You Measure Is What You Get" rings true in this case. As a history major, if I recall correctly, you ought to know this as well as anyone. If you look at learning outcomes for college history courses, you find that college faculty do not emphasize the rote memorization of facts and events. Instead they emphasize students' ability to identify authentic primary sources, critically analyze historical theories and arguments, understand historical trends and context, and communicate this effectively

English Composition is the subject of a fantastic new book - College Credit for Writing in High School published by the National Council of Teachers of English. High school teachers and college faculty describe far better than I how the AP Composition exam drives teachers to focus almost exclusively on short, timed essays while college composition courses emphasize multiple genres of writing, including research, comparative analysis, argumentative, critique, and creative writing styles.

The significant perception gap between college faculty and high school teachers regarding what constitutes college-level work is not limited to the humanities. ACT's National Curriculum Survey documents that high school science teachers impart content while college faculty value process skills (such as how to accurately interpret data, how to make appropriate experimental design decisions, etc.).

As we've discussed, there is a national set of standards and a quality assurance mechanism for college courses taught by high school instructors. The national standards promulgated by our organization, the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) ( articulate practices that ensure that these courses are of the same high quality and rigor as courses offered to matriculated college students. The 57 NACEP-accredited programs review the credentials of all course instructors using the same hiring standards; provide course-specific professional development and oversight; ensure consistency in curricular content and assessments; and conduct program evaluations. High school teachers teaching in NACEP-accredited programs cannot "dumb down" colleges course without detection as you fear. At the very least, you ought to count high schools that partner with NACEP-accredited concurrent enrollment programs.

-- Adam Lowe (

Posted by: adamlowe | January 24, 2011 10:01 AM | Report abuse

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