Friday, 30 April 2010 00:00
There appears to be some continuing confusion regarding the direction of Manhasset’s AP program results based on the district’s Newsweek ranking. This confusion has persisted since the 2003 rankings were first questioned by the community in 2005. In my May 25, 2006 Manhasset Press post-budget vote column, I praised the district’s AP participation accomplishment, attempted to explain the “Challenge Index” formula used by Jay Matthews in Newsweek, and also addressed community concerns regarding the integrity of the district’s data submitted to Newsweek. The column’s major points are encapsulated below. The link to a copy of that column is http://www.manhasset.k12.ny.us/district.cfm?subpage=8346.
1. There are two factors that contribute to Manhasset’s strong showing. First, a relatively high number of students meet the pre-requisite requirements for admission to the AP program. Second, there is a board policy that under certain conditions permits the override of a decision to deny admission to the AP program. This policy and its careful implementation have worked in the best interest of students while maintaining the integrity of the AP program. That Manhasset ranks high in AP results on the “Challenge Index” is an indication that it has struck a balance between program access and academic integrity that is among the highest in the nation.
2. Newsweek’s “Best American High Schools” ranking is based on a single variable: a school district’s total number of AP exams taken divided by a school district’s self- reported number of senior class graduates. This simple division results in the “Challenge Index “ratio.
3. In 2002, Manhasset innocently but incorrectly reported 131 graduating seniors while the College Board correctly reported a total of 503 AP exams taken. This resulted in a “Challenge Index” ratio of 3.840. In actuality there were 170 graduating seniors in 2002, resulting in a corrected index of 2.958—still producing a lofty 38th in Newsweek’s national ranking system.
Since 2003 an ever-increasing number of schools discovered the relatively easy road to national recognition by enrolling a larger number of students in AP exams without their having the burden of factoring results into the evaluative criteria. As with most one- variable accountability measures, this practice has produced confusing results. Jay Matthews’ avowed purpose is to increase AP participation nationally. He has encouraged schools to enroll students in AP courses without regard for their academic maturity. His often stated belief is that mere exposure to an AP course will improve a student’s attitude and contribute to his intellectual growth. While AP scores are verifiable, enrollment projections are unverified and can unintentionally skew his challenge index to an extent that it becomes soft comparison data. As graphically demonstrated, his participation accountability model has contributed to increased AP participation nationally, but it has also created a public relations problem for high performing districts, for its volatility and purpose are little understood. To help us better understand the “Challenge Index” as it relates to Manhasset’s AP performance in recent years, I have applied the “Challenge Index” formula to our AP participation results from 1999 to 2009 and included the percentage of scores of three or above. I have also used New York State Report Card Data for graduating seniors from 1999 to 2009. (See box below.)
Our recent results demonstrate a continued commitment to the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program. The district continues to show progress in achieving greater participation and higher scores. Our faculty is committed to sustaining and even improving Manhasset’s AP Program. As a board member, your understanding of this effort will be crucial to its continued success. I thank you for your interest in leading our school district for the next three years and hope this information will be helpful in understanding the recent history of the AP program in Manhasset.
Superintendent of Manhasset Schools