About the High School Challenge

AP, IB and college-level tests


Graduating seniors


Challenge Index

Since 1998, The Post’s Jay Mathews has ranked Washington-area public high schools using the Challenge Index, his measure of how effectively a school prepares its students for college. (More on how the Index works below.) In 2011, the Post expanded its research to high schools across the United States.

The formula is simple: Divide the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other college-level tests a school gave in 2010 by the number of graduating seniors. While not a measure of the overall quality of the school, the rating can reveal the level of a high school’s commitment to preparing average students for college.

More about the Challenge Index

Mathews explains the Index and answers frequently asked questions about it here.

He also discusses other methods for ranking high schools here.

Some schools may have slightly higher rankings on the D.C. area list than on the national. Scores in the D.C. list may include points for testing done for courses taught at local universities; national list scores do not.

Rankings note the percentage of a school’s students whose family incomes are low enough to qualify for federally subsidized lunches and who also apply for that program. The portion of subsidized-lunch applicants is a rough indicator of a school’s poverty level.

They also note the Equity and Excellence rate, the percentage of all seniors who have had at least one score on an AP, IB or Cambridge test that would qualify them for college credit.


Jay Mathews and Post researcher Bonnie Smith, working with Local Innovations Editor James Buck, canvassed schools across the nation for data used to assemble the rankings.

The Post’s Jason Bartz provided digital development support.

Contact Us

If you have questions about The High School Challenge, your school’s ranking, or are a school administrator who wants to submit a photo, e-mail us.

Contact the Post

Administrators with questions about their school's data can