Maryland has 98 schools on Newsweek's annual list of "best" high schools in the country released yesterday. Perhaps we should debate what makes a high school one of the best, but Jay Mathews, the Washington Post education columnist who started judging high schools and ranking them more than a decade ago, defines it this way: how hard administrators in the school are pushing Advanced Placement and International Baccalareaute classes. More precisely, each school is given an index number that shows the number of AP or IB tests given divided by the number of graduates each year. A school has to have at least one test given for each graduate to make the list. Only 6 percent, or 1,600, of the 27,000 high schools in the country make the list.
Missing from the equation is how many students are passing the classes and the exams, not just taking them. Although Newsweek has, at least, added a number called the E&E number, which is the percentage of graduating seniors who took and passed at least one test during high school.
That may be more important than the high school's rank on the list. So parents might want to look not as much at the relative rank of their school, but what the E&E percentage is. Outside seven Montgomery County schools, which were in the top 100, River Hill in Howard was ranked highest of the schools in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Second in the area was Severna Park at 182, with Centennial in Howard County at 238 and Dulaney in Baltimore County at 253, following close behind.
City College was the only city high school on the list this year. Montgomery County had 25 schools on the list, Baltimore County had 12. High schools in all corners of the state, from the Eastern Shore to Garrett County were represented, though. If you would like to search for your school, it is pretty easy.
In all, Maryland had the highest percentage of its high schools on the list than any other state, which is a testament to the work the state has done to push Advanced Placement in recent years.
The most recent studies indicate that students who have taken an AP course are more likely to graduate from college. Some parents have questioned the need for students to take so many AP classes at the exclusion of other high level classes. Whether a school is on the list, Jay Mathews admits, may not mean the school isn't doing a good job. But he argues that his rankings are simple and easily defined, but shouldn't be the sole way to judge a high school.