Monday, May 21, 2007

Academic Magnet Proves Disraeli Right Again

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics," according to noted British statesman Benjamin Disraeli.

Newsweek's "challenge index," as touted for Academic Magnet High School in today's Post and Courier, is just such a statistic. It deserves to be included in that famous little book published several years ago, How to Lie with Statistics.

No doubt CCSD is saying to anyone who will listen, "Well, at least we have the Academic Magnet for our best students." Everyone needs to read the fine print, or at least the rules that govern this index. I'm sure the principals of other high schools in the area are grinding their teeth over the unfairness of this spotlight.

I don't mean to knock the Academic Magnet. It didn't create the index, and one would hardly expect its principal to denigrate an index that makes the school look good.

But here's the reality: what Academic Magnet has is the largest number of AP exams being taken per senior while still keeping an SAT index not significantly higher than 1300 (on the math/critical reading portions).

Contemplate those parameters, please.

  • The BEST magnet and charter high schools in the nation ARE NOT RANKED because their SAT scores are too high. Not so with AM.

  • The index does not consider if the test-takers PASSED (i.e., made a 3 or better) on the AP exams. Thus, even if none of the test-takers did qualify, AM would still make the list.

May I take this ridiculous statistic to its obvious conclusion? Let's have every student at every high school in CCSD take three or four AP exams. We could blow the list out of the water.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting, Babbie. As a teacher, I realize the true "test" to an AP Exam is the number of students who actually pass it and receive their college credit. I'm so tired of CCSD "going through the motions" on course offerings.

Clisby said...

I'm not sure where you think the "lie" comes in - Newseek is clear about what it's rating, and it isn't highest average SAT scores.

That's why it's called the Challenge Index, not the Highest SAT Score Index, or the Most AP Tests Passed Index.

What constitutes a "best" high school is subjective. As long as the people creating the list are up-front about the criteria they use, what's the problem? I don't see that the Newsweek criteria are any sillier than rating high schools by the average SAT score.

Babbie said...

To Clisby: You are right that Newsweek is clear about its parameters. It's how the list is being USED that is the lie. If the rankings had some corrective factor for how many students actually qualify on the AP exams, it would serve its purpose. Right now all it does is encourage schools to get every student to take AP exams instead of getting as many students as possible to QUALIFY on the exams.

Clisby said...

I'm not sure this list encourages schools to do anything.

The author of the report makes plain his assertion that schools SHOULD encourage as many kids as possible to take AP classes, because that helps prepare them for the kind of work they'll face in college. Whether they pass the AP exam is secondary, in his opinion. You can agree or disagree, but given that premise, there's nothing misleading or nuts about the conclusions of the report.

If you're right that this list encourages anything, then the outcome of what you propose would be exactly what the Newsweek report author thinks schools should avoid: limiting AP classes to students who are highly likely to pass.

So if you want to set up the Babbie Index to rate schools the way you want - feel free. Anybody can get into the rating game.

Babbie said...

No, I don't think classes should be limited. I like the how-many-exams-per-senior element, but along with that should be a corrective factor for passing. Otherwise, AP simply becomes a money-maker for the College Board. Students don't have to take an AP class to take the exam; at least, that's how it's supposed to be set up. But many guidance counselors don't tell students that they have the option of taking the exam even when they're not in the class.

Anonymous said...

I go to Academic Magnet and I can tell you that even though this ranking corresponds to the AP tests taken divided by the amount in the graduating class, our SAT scores also rank among the highest in the state or nation. Our school isn't easy by any means. 100% of the students from AMHS go on to college, that shows that the school is top of the line in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

I also go to magnet, and as a junior taking 3 APs, i can assure you that our teachers arent just jamming as many students in the classes hoping to maintain this "top high school" status. We have to be recommended and have to go through numerous consent forms to assure that we personally feel ready for the class. Please Mr. Babbie, research a little more carefully before you go on a dogmatic rant