Every year, the Washington Post and Newsweek come out with their fancy "challenge index" of national high schools, prompting much hand-wringing and arbitrary comparisons that, when combined with 25 cents, may or may not buy you a dropperful of artiseanal free trade coffee from your local barista. This year, Reston's South Lakes High School ranked 308th among the nation's top 1,900 schools, or 39th in the DC area. That's up from #558 a few years back, a data point selected by the all-important "last time we remembered to check on this arbitrary annual list, which wasn't last year" criteria. Herndon High School ranked 233rd, or 31st in the region. Given that there are more than 26,000 high schools in the country, that ain't bad. But of course, we in Fairfax County have come to expect champagne wishes and caviar dreams, even from our schools.
At 104th nationally, Oakton was the top-ranked Fairfax County high school (and 10th in the region), followed by McLean, James Madison, Langley (go Unredistrictable Anglo-Saxons!), W.T. Woodson, Lake Braddock, Chantilly, Herndon, and Robinson. Centreville, Westfield, West Springfield, South County, Marshall, Stuart, Falls Church, Hayfield, Edison, Lee, Annandale, all scored lower than SLHS. About one in three SLHS students qualify for free and reduced lunch, according to the survey.
So what does all this mean? As with any piece of data rounded to three decimal points, probably less than it seems. The index is based on the proportion of graduating seniors who take college-level AP and IB exams, not test scores that "say more about a school’s average family income than its efforts to raise the level of instruction for average students," as Post education maven Jay Matthews puts it. Critics of the index argue that the rankings don't say how well students do on those exams, and point to schools on the list with high dropout rates and wide achievement gaps among students of different races and income levels. But with "rigor" being the watchword in education circles right now, it's hard to argue with the idea that schools should push more kids into IB and AP classes so they
have a slight chance at not spending the next six decades as interchangeable and disposable wage slaves one minor misstep away from irrevocable financial ruin can be "college and career ready."
More troubling is this:
Either they didn't get any data from SLHS, or we'd suggest checking the water fountains for lead.
In other words, it's all a bit of a wash. We'd frankly spend more time worrying about who the next South Lakes principal is going to be, or why kids there are getting in trouble for being on the Twitters, or what possessed someone to break into the school, the end.