Thomas Jefferson High School drops to 5th in latest US News ranking

This Northern Virginia high school has been on the top of the list for the last three years; but in 2023, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology dropped to fifth in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best High School Rankings.”

The Early College at Guilford in North Carolina toppled the Fairfax County school from its pedestal. Coming in second place was the Signature School in Indiana, the School for Advanced Studies in Miami in third, and the Davidson Academy in Nevada. The top five schools, including Thomas Jefferson High, are all public schools.

Liana Loewus, the managing editor for education at U.S. News, said very small shifts in data can cause big changes in the rankings.

“So with TJ, there were just very small shifts in assessment data,” Loewus said. “But because especially those top schools, they are so close to each other, just a small shift can look like a precipitous drop. But it doesn’t mean too much has really changed there.”

The data U.S. News used to rank Virginia schools was assessment data from 2018 to 2019 and 2020 to 2021, and in some cases, “it was a mix of the two years,” Loewus said, adding that researchers weren’t able to use data that was “any more recent than that.”

The data was from before Thomas Jefferson High School implemented changes to how it admitted students into the highly selective school.

The Fairfax County school board voted in 2020 to change the admissions process at the school, hoping that it would increase Black and Hispanic representation in the student body. One of the changes included the elimination of standardized admissions testing. The admission changes have been challenged in court by critics who say the new admissions policy is discriminatory against Asian Americans.

Thomas Jefferson High School, however, held on to the top spot for the No. 1 magnet school in the country, and it moved up two spots to No. 4 in the top STEM school in the U.S. It also ranked first as the top high school in the D.C. area, followed by School Without Walls in D.C. and Poolesville High School in Montgomery County, Maryland.

U.S. News worked with a research firm to determine the rankings of more than 17,500 high schools out of more than 24,000 reviewed. Using several sources of data, including from the U.S. Department of Education, state educational data, The College Board and International Baccalaureate, schools were ranked based on students’ college readiness, the breadth of their college curriculum, state assessment proficiency and performance, underserved student performance and graduation rate, among other measures.

Loewus said parents should look at the rankings as a “jumping off point” in making decisions, and should look at other factors, such as location and the student’s personal interests and aptitudes.

“Take a look at that area, how those schools are doing. But look specifically, if there are certain measures,” Loewus said. For example, if diversity is important to your family, then look at the demographics of the schools in that area. Or if it’s after-school activity, then see what a particular district offers.

“But also, just [be] clear about what you, as a family, are really looking for,” Loewus said.

To see the full rankings, visit the U.S. News website.

WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this report.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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