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2017 U.S. News and World Report Names Huntland School as Bronze Medal Best High School
Posted On:
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
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2017 U.S. News and World Report Names Huntland School as Bronze Medal Best High School

To produce the 2017 Best High Schools rankings, U.S. News & World Report teamed with North Carolina-based RTI International, a global nonprofit social science research firm.

RTI implemented the U.S. News comprehensive rankings methodology, which is based on these key principles: that a great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show it is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.

We started by reviewing 28,496 public high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Some of those schools had to be eliminated from consideration, mainly because they were too small to be analyzed. This reduced the count to 20,487, which is the total number of public high schools across the country that had high enough 12th-grade enrollment and/or sufficient enrollment in other grades during the 2014-2015 school year to be eligible for the rankings.

National Rankings

A four-step process determined the Best High Schools. The first three steps ensured that the schools serve all of their students well, using their performance on the math and reading parts of their state proficiency tests and their graduation rates as the benchmarks. For those schools that made it past the first three steps, a fourth step assessed the degree to which schools prepare students for college-level work.

• Step 1: The first step determined whether each school's students were performing better than statistically expected for students in that state.

U.S. News started by looking at reading and math results for all students on each state's high school proficiency tests. U.S. News then factored in the percentages of economically disadvantaged students – who tend to score lower – enrolled at the schools to identify schools performing much better than statistical expectations. To pass Step 1, high schools' performance had to be one-third of one standard deviation above the average.

This threshold was applied to a school's performance compared with what would be statistically expected for that school in its state, based on its percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

In the 2017 rankings, for the second year in a row, U.S. News used an absolute performance adjustment in Step 1.

The 10 percent of schools with the highest absolute performance on their state's reading and math assessment tests automatically passed Step 1. Schools with reading and math assessment test performance in the bottom 10 percent of the state's results automatically failed Step 1. 

U.S. News made this adjustment again to reward schools in their state for exceptionally high performance on state assessment tests, regardless of their poverty level, as well as to prevent schools in their state with exceptionally low state assessment test performance from being able to win a gold, silver or bronze medal.  

• Step 2: For schools passing the first step, Step 2 assessed whether their disadvantaged students – black, Hispanic and low-income – performed at or better than the state average for the least-advantaged students.

U.S. News compared each school's math and reading proficiency rates for disadvantaged students with the statewide results for these student groups and then selected schools that were performing better than their state averages.

• Step 3: For schools passing the first and second step, Step 3 required schools to meet or surpass a benchmark for their graduation rate. This is the second year U.S. News has included this step.

As with the assessment data used in the previous steps, high schools' graduation rates were collected from each state. Although there is some variation in how states calculate graduation rates, the foundation of all states' calculations is the percentage of first-time ninth-graders who were awarded diplomas four years later.

For the 2017 rankings, the graduation rate reflects the 2015 cohort – students who entered ninth grade in the 2011-2012 school year.

High schools only passed Step 3 if their rounded graduation rate was 75 percent or greater. This is an increase from the 68 percent threshold used in the 2016 rankings. This threshold was based on the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which was passed in 2015 and is the successor to the No Child Left Behind Act. The law stipulates that states are required to provide additional resources to schools whose graduation rates are 67 percent or lower.

The 75 percent threshold used in the 2017 rankings is still lower than the national average graduation rate as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, which was 83 percent in 2014-2015. U.S. News believes that the new 75 percent threshold is a valid standard that ensures that all ranked schools do not struggle to graduate students and that at least three-quarters of their students earn high school diplomas.

Graduation rates are an important indicator of how well a school is succeeding for all its students. In future rankings, U.S. News will likely increase the threshold graduation rate needed to pass Step 3. 

Schools without a graduation rate value were allowed to pass Step 3 to account for varying state rules regarding which high schools receive a calculated graduation rate, since each high school has limited control over this.

• Step 4: Schools that made it through the first three steps became eligible to be judged nationally on the final step – college-readiness performance – using Advanced Placement test data as the benchmark for success. AP is a College Board program that offers college-level courses at high schools across the country. 

This year’s Step 4 didn't include International Baccalaureate test data. The International Baccalaureate Organization informed U.S. News in November 2016 that it was unable to supply U.S. News with IB data for 12th-grade students in 2014-2015 as it had in previous years.

For the 2017 Best High Schools rankings, this means that high schools that only use IB exams weren't eligible for gold or silver medals. Like all high schools that pass Steps 1-3 of the rankings methodology, IB schools were still eligible for bronze medals. Schools that offer both IB and AP courses were eligible for gold and silver medals based on their AP exam performance if they passed Steps 1-3.

South Dakota was the only state that did not give U.S. News permission to use its schools' AP data in Step 4, so no South Dakota schools could be evaluated in this last step. 

This fourth step measured which schools produced the best college-level achievement for the highest percentages of their students. This was done by computing a College Readiness Index based on the school's AP participation rate – the number of 12th-grade students in the 2014-2015 academic year who took at least one AP test before or during their senior year, divided by the total number of 12th-graders at the school – and how well the students performed on those tests.

The latter part, called the quality-adjusted AP participation rate, is the number of 12th-grade students in the 2014-2015 academic year who took and passed – received an AP score of 3 or higher – at least one AP test before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th-graders at that school. Any individual AP subject test was considered when determining whether a student took or passed at least one AP test.

For the CRI, the quality-adjusted AP participation rate was weighted 75 percent in the calculation, and the simple AP participation rate was weighted 25 percent.

The maximum CRI value is 100, which means that every 12th-grade student during the 2014-2015 academic year in a particular school took and passed at least one AP test before or during his or her senior year.

To summarize, to be numerically ranked nationally, a high school had to pass Steps 1-3 and have a CRI value at or above 20.91, which was this year's median – the statistical midpoint of all CRI values.

In total, U.S. News nationally ranked the 6,041 highest-scoring schools as gold, silver or bronze depending on their CRI values.

• Gold medals: Schools with the highest unrounded CRI values were numerically ranked from No. 1 to No. 500 and were the gold medal winners.

Twenty-five gold medal high schools achieved the maximum CRI value of 100. There were also other instances in which gold or silver medal schools were tied based on their unrounded CRI values. These values, when published online as part of the Best High Schools rankings, are rounded to one decimal place.

This year, U.S. News and the College Board collaboratively developed a new tiebreaker to avoid ties in the numerical rankings when schools had the same unrounded CRI values, which was the case for the top 25 ranked schools in the 2017 Best High Schools rankings. This new tiebreaker was the percentage of 12th-graders in the 2014-2015 academic year who took AP exams and the percentage who passed those exams in at least four of the seven AP content areas. The tiebreaker measures the breadth of students who took and passed AP exams across multiple disciplines.

The AP content areas measured were English, Math & Computer Science, Sciences, World Languages & Culture, History and Social Sciences, Arts and AP Capstone. Students who took and passed exams in two or three areas were given partial credit – 50 percent and 75 percent, respectively. Those who took and passed AP exams in four of the seven AP content areas earned full credit. The percentage of students taking exams in multiple areas was weighted 25 percent and the percentage of students passing exams in multiple areas was weighted 75 percent to derive the final tiebreaker score.

High schools where the largest proportion of 12th-grade students in the 2014-2015 academic year took and passed AP tests in at least four AP content areas scored highest in the tiebreaker. The new tiebreaker was used to break ties among 297 schools – 61 gold medal schools and 236 silver medal schools. The College Board computed the tiebreaker.

• Silver medals: The high schools ranked from No. 501 to No. 2,609 were the 2,109 silver medal winners. Only schools with CRI values at or above 20.91 received this medal because that was the median of all the CRI values among high schools with AP test-takers.

• Bronze medals: An additional 3,432 high schools that passed the first three steps in the methodology were awarded bronze medals and are listed alphabetically. A bronze medal school either does not offer any AP courses or its CRI was less than the median of 20.91 needed to receive a silver medal.

In addition to the main gold, silver and bronze national rankings, we have also published numerical rankings of the Best High Schools within each state and of the Best Charter SchoolsBest Magnet Schools and Best STEM Schools on a national level.

State Rankings

The state rankings methodology was changed this year to enable more highly qualified schools to be numerically ranked within their own states. This year for the first time in the Best High Schools rankings, some bronze medal winners were numerically ranked in their state. Bronze medal winners had to have a CRI value of greater than or equal to 10 to be numerically ranked in their state.

Overall the 2017 Best High Schools state rankings are based on whether a high school is nationally ranked gold, silver or bronze in their state and has a CRI value of greater than or equal to 10. This change increased the total number of high schools ranked in all states by 936. Previously, only nationally ranked gold and silver medal winners were numerically ranked in their state. Bronze medal schools with a CRI value of less than 10 and those without a CRI are listed alphabetically within their state.

If the highest-ranked high school in a state is No. 60 nationally, then that school is also ranked No. 1 in that state; if the second highest-ranked school in that same state is No. 1,201 nationally, then that school is ranked No. 2 in that state.

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