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How U.S. News Calculated the 2014 Best High Schools Rankings

We looked at thousands of public schools to identify the most outstanding.

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To produce the 2014 U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools rankings, U.S. News teamed up with the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research, one of the largest behavioral and social science research organizations in the world.

AIR implemented the U.S. News comprehensive rankings methodology, which is based on the 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 the school is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.

The methodology used in the 2014 Best High Schools rankings was unchanged from the 2013 edition.

We started out by analyzing 31,242 public high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. That number was reduced to 19,411 schools, which is the total number of public high schools across the country that had high enough 12th-grade enrollment and sufficient data from the 2011-2012 school year to be eligible for the rankings.

National Rankings

A three-step process determined the Best High Schools. The first two steps ensured that the schools serve all of their students well, using performance on state proficiency tests as the benchmarks. For those schools that made it past the first two steps, a third 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 the average student in the state. We started by looking at reading and math results for all students on each state's high school proficiency tests.

We then factored in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students – who tend to score lower – enrolled at the school to identify the schools that were performing better than statistical expectations.

• Step 2: For those schools that made it past this first step, the second step determined whether the school's least-advantaged students – black, Hispanic and low-income – were performing better than average for similar students in the state.

We 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 this state average.

• Step 3: Schools that made it through the first two steps became eligible to be judged nationally on the final step – college-readiness performance – using Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test data as the benchmarks for success, depending on which program was largest at the school.

AP is a College Board program that offers college-level courses at high schools across the country. The International Baccalaureate program also offers a college-level curriculum.

This third 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 or IB participation rate – the number of 12th-grade students in the 2011-2012 academic year who took at least one AP or IB test before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th-graders – and how well the students did on those tests.

The latter part, called the quality-adjusted AP or IB participation rate, is the number of 12th-grade students in the 2011-2012 academic year who took and passed – received an AP score of 3 or higher or an IB score of 4 or higher – at least one of the tests before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th-graders at that school. Any individual AP or IB subject test was considered when determining if a student took or passed at least one test.

For the College Readiness Index, the quality-adjusted participation rate was weighted 75 percent in the calculation, and the simple AP or IB participation rate was weighted 25 percent. The test that was taken by the most students at a particular school – either AP or IB – was used to calculate that school's College Readiness Index.