Fairfax County high school takes top spot nationally in latest US News ranking

A Fairfax County, Virginia, high school has claimed the top spot among the nation’s best on an annual ranking by U.S. News & World Report. What’s more, two D.C. schools made the top 100.

Not only does Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, or TJHSST, in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, lead the D.C. area. It also climbed three spots since last year to take the top position in the nation.

It is also No. 3 among science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) schools nationally; and No. 1 among magnet schools nationally.

TJHSST’s top marks are due to its best-in-state performance in English and math assessments, top-ranking in college readiness and 100% graduation rate, according to a U.S. News release.

“The schools that are the highest-ranked are those where the students excelled on state tests and they performed beyond expectations,” said Anita Narayan, managing editor of education for U.S. News.

This means the students participated in and passed a variety of college-level AP and/or IB exams, and they also graduated in high proportions.

“And that’s why a school like Thomas Jefferson did so exceedingly well and the other schools that are within the top 25% of these rankings. It’s because they excelled in those six factors that we looked at and in comparison with other schools in the country. That’s sort of what sets them apart,” Narayan said.

The six factors are: college readiness, reading and math proficiency, reading and math performance, underserved student performance, college curriculum breadth and graduation rates.

Last year, U.S. News & World Report changed the grading criteria for its annual rankings of the nation’s best public high schools.

This year, the Top 10 schools nationally span nine states, which include six magnet schools, two charter schools and two traditional public schools.

“Clearly this demonstrates that you can find a high-quality education throughout the U.S.,” Narayan said.

What does it take to be ranked high?

U.S. News & World Report reviewed some 24,000 public high schools in all 50 states and D.C. using available data — including state tests and college-level achievement tests — from the 2017-2018 academic year, and then it ranked more than 17,700 of those schools.

“Our methodology with the best high schools ranking really focuses on these schools that are doing a good job serving all of their students. Not just the ones that are the highest-achieving students,” Narayan said.

U.S. News & World Report looked at how certain groups and low-income students performed on state tests compared with those who are not underserved in their states, Narayan said.

“That’s where schools really want to pay attention to. All of their students, not just the top-tier ones who have some sort of economic advantages that are propelling them to the top,” Narayan said.

Other area public schools that did well nationally:

  • No. 73 — School without Walls High School (D.C.). The school was ranked 191 in 2019.
  • No. 99 — Benjamin Banneker High School (D.C.). The school ranked 178 in 2019.
  • No. 227 — BASIS DC (D.C.)
  • No. 90 — Poolesville High School (Montgomery County, Maryland)
  • No. 105 — Walt Whitman High School (Montgomery County, Maryland)
  • No. 128 — Thomas S. Wootton High School (Montgomery County, Maryland)
  • No. 126 — Langley High School (Fairfax County, Virginia)
  • No. 236 — McLean High School (Fairfax County, Virginia)
  • No. 245 — Marshall High School (Fairfax County, Virginia)

In addition, U.S. News ranked states based on the percentage of their schools that were ranked in the top 25% nationally. Maryland was No. 4 nationally and Virginia was No. 11, with 39.6% and 31.3% of their schools, respectively, in the top fourth nationally. D.C. came in at No. 25, with 22.9%. By comparison, Massachusetts was No. 1 again, with 49.6%.

Narayan said the lists are created for parents.

“We want to present parents with data so they can make informed decisions.”

See all the rankings at the U.S. News website.


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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