Fairfax County High School Rankings: IB vs AP

When choosing a high school, either for a current high-schooler or for the future, there are several considerations.  One consideration which is in almost every parent’s mind is: How good is the school?

And, well, “good” is quite a subjective measure

But when they say “good”, most parents are referring to how much their children will be challenged to reach their highest potential.

Children love to be challenged (IB vs AP)

Children love to be challenged

One way to ensure that children have the opportunity to be challenged is by attending a high school offering a high-level program of courses.  Two of those programs are the Advanced Placement program (AP), and the International Baccalaureate (IB). 

What is Advanced Placement (AP)?

The Advanced Placement program was created by The College Board in 1956 to allow certain elite high school students to earn credit toward college courses.

These elite high school students were to take high-level courses during high school, and through the AP program, these courses would allow them to earn credits toward college courses.  By earning credits toward college courses, they would avoid reviewing the same material in college that they had already covered in high-school.

Similarly to the Advanced Placement (AP) program, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program allows students to take higher level courses in high school for an extra challenge.

What is the International Baccalaureate (IB)?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum was created by teachers at the International School of Geneva in 1968 to cater to children of diplomats and business executives.

One of the main differences between the AP program and the IB curriculum is that AP courses are, for the most part, individual courses (although there is a Diploma option in a pilot program).

In contrast, the IB curriculum started out as a comprehensive program which culminates with the IB Diploma (although students can get a IB certificate for individual IB courses).

How are the IB and AP programs similar?

In terms of challenging students, many teachers report that both programs are equally efficient.    And even though the programs were initially conceived for students of elite schools, many non-elite schools have found that these programs also were of benefit to their students.

Beyond the benefit of the challenge

Beyond the benefit of the challenge that these programs offer, there are reports that AP is treated differently by US-based universities than IB, specifically when earning credits toward college courses.  Parents report that it’s relatively easy to earn college credits through AP courses, but doing the same for IB courses depends on each university’s policy.

In Fairfax County, all high schools offer one of these high-level programs. There are 8 Fairfax County High Schools which offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and  16 Fairfax County High Schools that offer the Advanced Placement (AP) program.

In the table below, you can see the Fairfax County High School Rankings by their Challenge Index ® ***, noting which program (IB vs AP) is offered at each school.

Fairfax County High School Rankings (IB vs AP)

Fairfax County
School Name
2011 Challenge
Index® Score
IB vs AP
# * Thomas Jefferson * 7.307 (2010) AP
# ** George Mason ** 5.271 IB
# 1 Oakton 4.754 AP
# 2 Mclean 4.390 AP
# 3 Madison 4.351 AP
# 4 Langley 4.344 AP
# 5 Woodson 4.317 AP
# 6 Lake Braddock 3.774 AP
# 7 Chantilly 3.768 AP
# 8 Fairfax 3.728 AP
# 9 West Potomac 3.698 AP
# 10 Herndon 3.676 AP
# 11 Robinson 3.593 IB
# 12 South Lakes 3.278 IB
# 13 Centreville 3.232 AP
# 14 Westfield 3.202 AP
# 15 West Springfield 3.192 AP
# 16 South County 2.948 AP
# 17 Marshall 2.869 IB
# 18 Stuart 2.820 IB
# 19 Falls Church 2.121 AP
# 20 Hayfield 2.037 AP
# 21 Edison 1.779 IB
# 22 Lee 1.699 IB
# 23 Annandale 1.685 IB
# 24 Mount Vernon 0.985 IB

* Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is a State magnet school with a selective admissions process and is no longer included in The Challenge Index® scoring system.

** George Mason High School belongs to the City of Falls Church School District

*** The Challenge Index ® was created by Jay Matthews of The Washington Post to gauge how much do high schools challenge their students by having them take high-level courses. 

In Summary

  • One way to rank Fairfax County High Schools is by how they challenge their students.
  • A way to challenge students is by offering higher-level courses, such as through AP and IB programs
  • Choosing to go IB vs AP is a matter of personal preference
  • AP edges out IB for ease of getting credit for college courses
  • All Fairfax County High Schools offer high-level courses: 8 schools offer the IB program vs. 16 schools which offer AP courses

Next Step

Academics are a very important part of education, but there are many other aspects of education that are highly relevant, for example: foreign languages, sports programs, leadership programs, clubs, and, of course, the environment in which everything takes place.  All these (and more) are very important parts of a student’s education.

Taking into account all these special programs, as well as the academics, and to help you identify which school is best for your particular needs, we have created the report “How to Choose the Right School”.

How to Choose the Right School

  • Is the first download in “The No-Tears Guide to Moving to Fairfax“,
  • Contains SAT, SOL and Challenge Index® scores per high school – in a single table, and
  • Guides you through selecting special programs
How to choose the right school

How to Choose the Right School (2012-2013)

As a current subscriber, you will be notified as soon as the 2012-2013 version of the report is released, which has updated scores and figures.

If you haven’t subscribed yet, why wait? Downloading The No-Tears Guide to Moving to Fairfax is free, and you’ll get not only this report, but also the Fairfax County Home Affordability Map, and detailed information about each Fairfax County high school boundary.


Photo by sudhi_11in on flickr

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