The methodology for identifying the Best High Schools was developed with a core principle in mind: that the best schools must serve all students well and must produce measurable academic outcomes that support this mission.
To produce the 2017 Best High Schools rankings, which are only available online, U.S. News teamed up with North Carolina-based RTI International, a global nonprofit social science research firm.
RTI implemented the U.S. News comprehensive rankings methodology, which reflects how well high schools serve all of their students, not just those who are planning to go to college. According to the U.S. News Best High Schools methodology, a Best High School is one that succeeds at the following steps.
• Step 1: The school attains performance levels that exceed statistical expectations given the school’s relative level of student poverty, as measured by state accountability test scores for all the school’s students in the core subjects of reading and math. A school can also succeed at this step by performing in the top 10 percent of schools in its state on those tests in absolute terms. However, no school can succeed at this step if it places in the bottom 10 percent of schools in its state.
• Step 2: The school achieves proficiency rates on state tests for its least-advantaged student groups – e.g., black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students – that are equal to or exceed state averages.
• Step 3: The school graduates its students at a rate that surpasses a basic national standard.
• Step 4: The school prepares its students for college, as measured by student participation in and performance on AP exams.
Any individual AP subject test was considered when determining whether a student took or passed at least one test. The AP test was used to calculate that school’s College Readiness Index value, which measures the degree to which students are exposed to and pass some college-level material while in high school.
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.
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.
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 CRI 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 of these 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.