WASHINGTON DC – Three area high schools – Perkiomen Valley, Spring-Ford, and Phoenixville – have been cited by The Washington Post newspaper as being among “America’s Most Challenging High Schools,” an annual ranking of “how successfully schools challenged their students,” it said. Of the 2,369 schools from across the nation on the 2017 edition of the list, 35 were located in Pennsylvania.
Phoenixville was ranked nationally at 570, Perkiomen Valley at 873, and Spring-Ford at 1,712. All three also were among those ranked last year, and all moved higher on this year’s list. The “Challenge Index,” as it is known, began in 1998 and is produced each year by Post education columnist Jay Mathews.
Rankings are determined by what the newspaper describes as “an index formula that’s a simple ratio: the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year, divided by the number of seniors who graduated that year. A ratio of 1.000 means the school had as many tests as graduates.”
In a May column that accompanied the list’s publication, Mathews observed several positive developments that bode well for other high schools nationwide:
- More schools qualify. “The list shows a sustained increase in the number of schools that qualify through AP, IB and Cambridge test participation … In 1998, only about one percent of U.S. schools qualified. The number this year is up to about 12 percent,” Mathews wrote.
- More low-income students take high-level exams. “In 2003, 94,539 students from low-income families took an AP exam. By 2016 that number had jumped to 554,584, a 487 percent increase,” he noted.
- Rigorous courses benefit all students. “Even students who do not pass AP exams appear to benefit from struggling in high school with the long reading lists and exams demanded of them in college,” the columnist added.
- Teachers lead the charge. Mathews said “dedicated teachers saw hidden potential in students who had not had much support. They convinced the teenagers they could do as well on college-level tests as kids in rich … neighborhoods. The teachers gave them the time they needed to learn.”
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