Why high schools moved up or down in the 2018 rankings

The U.S. News Best High Schools rankings, released today, give national recognition to 5,948 public high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. These schools were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals based on their students’ graduation rates, performance on state tests and college readiness. U.S. News teamed with North Carolina-based RTI International, a global nonprofit social science research firm, to produce the rankings.

How the 2018 Best High Schools Rankings Compare With the 2017 Rankings

In total, 4,012, or 66.4 percent, of the high schools that received medal recognition from U.S. News in the 2017 Best High Schools rankings remain in the 2018 rankings as gold, silver or bronze medal winners. That means that 33.6 percent of the high schools that were ranked in 2017 are not ranked in 2018.

Of the schools that were gold medal winners in the 2017 rankings, 90 percent remain in the 2018 rankings as gold, silver or bronze medal winners. The vast majority of the 2017 gold medal winners — 77.4 percent — continue as gold in 2018.

Of the schools that were silver medal winners in the 2017 rankings, 74.1 percent remain in the 2018 rankings as gold, silver or bronze medal winners. Far more than half of the 2017 silver medal winners — 66.6 percent — continue as silver in 2018.

And of the schools that were bronze medal winners in the 2017 rankings, 58.2 percent remain in the 2018 rankings as gold, silver or bronze medal winners. More than half of the 2017 bronze medal winners — 52.5 percent — continue as bronze in 2018.

Overall, in the 2018 rankings, 28.9 percent of eligible high schools earned a medal.

These rankings results show that the bronze medal schools are much less consistent in their year-to-year performance, especially when compared with the relatively high year-to-year consistency of the gold medal schools and, to a slightly lesser degree, the silver medal schools.

Methodology Overview and Changes to the 2018 Rankings

U.S. News identifies the “best” schools using a four-step process that considers whether a school is serving all of its students — including disadvantaged populations. The first three steps include indicators such as student performance on state assessments and school graduation rates. Schools that make it to the fourth step are then assessed on the degree to which students are prepared for college-level work.

Each year, U.S. News is asked why individual schools moved up or down in the rankings compared with previous years. There are many possible reasons a school’s ranking changed in 2018. The most common explanations are outlined below.

1. Increased threshold for school graduation rates in the methodology

2. Inclusion of International Baccalaureate test data in the rankings

3. Changes in the way U.S. News evaluates ties

4. Updates to the College Readiness Index

5. Changes in state assessment data and relative performance on state tests

6. Changes in relative or absolute performance on college-level coursework

7. Suppression of state test results, missing state test data, changes in free and reduced-price lunch eligibility or lack of AP test results

1. Increased threshold for school graduation rates in the methodology: Graduation rates are an important indicator of how well a school is succeeding for all its students. This year, U.S. News raised the graduation rate threshold needed to pass step three to 80 percent or higher. In the 2017 rankings, schools needed a graduation rate of 75 percent or higher. Schools that did not meet this threshold did not move on to step four of the methodology.

The 80 percent threshold used in the 2018 rankings is still lower than the national average graduation rate as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, which was 84 percent in 2015-2016. U.S. News believes that the new 80 percent threshold is a valid standard that ensures that all ranked schools do not struggle to graduate students and that at least four-fifths of their students earn high school degrees. For more details, see page 16 in the technical appendix.

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

2. Inclusion of International Baccalaureate test data in the rankings: In step four of the methodology, a College Readiness Index is computed based on each school’s participation in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate test data. For the 2018 rankings the methodology included IB test data for 12th-grade students at the 360 IB schools in 2015-2016. IB data were not used in the 2017 rankings. Those who want to learn how a lack of IB test data impacted the rankings in 2017 can click here.

This means for the 2018 Best High Schools rankings, high schools that only used IB exams were eligible for gold or silver medals, like all high schools that pass steps one to three of the rankings methodology. Schools that offer both IB and AP courses were also eligible for gold and silver medals based on performance on both exams, if they passed steps one to three.

3. Changes in the way U.S. News evaluates ties: U.S. News works with IB and the College Board to develop a tiebreaker in the numerical rankings when schools have the same unrounded CRI values based on IB and AP test data. The College Board computed the tiebreaker for AP schools and IB calculated the tiebreaker for IB schools. RTI computed the blended tiebreaker. In total, tiebreakers were used among 301 schools — 51 gold medal schools and 250 silver medal schools.

New this year, in cases when a school had both AP and IB test-takers and its blended CRI was tied in the overall rankings with another gold or silver medal school, U.S. News used a blended AP/IB tiebreaker based on the proportion of students taking each test.

For more details, see question No. 8 in the FAQ.

4. Updates to the College Readiness Index: To determine the medal status cutoff for the rankings, U.S. News uses each year’s median CRI as the new threshold. U.S. News has done this since the 2012 Best High Schools rankings. The new rankings have a higher CRI threshold than the 2017 rankings. The premise of using the median as the CRI threshold is that a school had to be performing at or better than half the schools to be eligible for a gold or silver medal.

For schools to obtain gold or silver medal status for the 2018 rankings, their CRI had to be at or above the median CRI value of 21.51, calculated on an unrounded basis. Historically, the CRI has been 20.91 in the 2017 rankings, 20.17 in the 2016 rankings, 19.42 in the 2015 rankings, 18.17 in the 2014 rankings and 14.8 in the 2013 rankings.

Additionally, U.S. News created a blended CRI for schools that reported both AP and IB results. This means that a proportionally larger weight was given to the program that had a higher participation count. A blended CRI allows U.S. News to fully assess the degree to which schools are preparing students for college-level work. This blended CRI was used for 324 schools. For these schools, their 2018 rank may differ from 2017 as a result of IB returning to the rankings and the use of a blended CRI.

5. Changes in state assessment data and relative performance on state tests: Some schools that were ranked in the 2017 Best High Schools rankings fell off the 2018 Best High Schools rankings list completely because they are no longer among the best-performing schools on their statewide tests — specifically, their overall student performance on state tests no longer exceeds statistical expectations (step one), or their historically underserved students’ performance does not exceed the state average (step two).

Additionally, schools that placed in the bottom 10 percent of schools in their state in terms of assessment test results were barred from earning a gold, silver or bronze medal.

Lastly, between 2014–15 and 2015–16, a number of states made changes to either their assessments, proficiency standards, and/or reporting practices, which may have affected school ranking results this year compared to last year. For more details, see page 20 in the technical appendix.

6. Changes in relative or absolute performance on college-level coursework: Some schools may have moved either up or down in the rankings because of how the performance and participation of their 12th-grade class cohort on AP or IB exams compares with the performance of the class cohort from a year earlier.

7. Suppression of state test results, missing state test data, changes in free and reduced-price lunch eligibility or lack of AP test results: Some medal-winning schools that were top performers in terms of college readiness in 2017 were not eligible to be ranked in 2018 because their state blocked certain portions of their math and English state test results from being released publicly.

There were also schools that weren’t ranked in 2017 that may have been eligible for medals this year, but certain portions of their state test data were suppressed or missing. Data could have been suppressed by states for various reasons, including protecting the identities of certain students. For more details, see page 22 in the technical appendix.

Additionally, some states had big changes from 2014-2015 to 2015-2016 in the number of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, which is used as a factor in step one of the Best High Schools methodology. The data U.S. News used on free and reduced-price lunches for each school in the 2018 Best High Schools rankings came from the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data public high school data set. No free and reduced price lunch data were available for Massachusetts in the CCD data for 2015-16. Therefore, the Massachusetts school poverty rates were calculated using the numbers of economically disadvantaged test takers for each school.

Lastly, South Dakota schools weren’t eligible for gold or silver medals in 2018 because U.S. News could not use their AP data to determine their students’ level of college readiness (step four of the methodology). South Dakota was the only state that did not give U.S. News permission to use its schools’ AP data. However, South Dakota schools still had the ability to earn bronze medals if they passed the first three steps of the methodology.

More from U.S. News

See the 2018 Best Public High Schools

How States Compare in the 2018 Best High Schools Rankings

Demographic Breakdown of the 2018 Best High Schools

Why High Schools Moved Up or Down in the 2018 Rankings originally appeared on usnews.com

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