Why High Schools Moved Up and Down in the Rankings

Some public high schools earned gold, silver or bronze medals for the first time.

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Thirty-six percent of the schools that received a medal in the 2013 Best High Schools rankings weren’t ranked in 2012.
Thirty-six percent of the schools that received a medal in the 2013 Best High Schools rankings weren’t ranked in 2012.

frequently asked question about the newly released U.S. News 2013 Best High Schools rankings will likely be why schools rose or fell in the rankings. There are several possible reasons for this movement.

1. Changes in relative performance on state tests: Some schools that were ranked in the 2012 Best High Schools rankings fell off the 2013 list completely because they are no longer among the best-performing schools on their statewide tests – meaning that their overall student performance on state tests did not exceed statistical expectations (Step 1 of the rankings methodology) or the performance of their least advantaged students was not as good as the state average (Step 2 of the methodology).

Without successfully meeting both Steps 1 and 2 in the rankings methodology, schools were not eligible for the national competition for a gold, silver or bronze medal and don't appear at all in the rankings.

In total, 1,734 or 63 percent of the high schools that were awarded a gold, silver or bronze medal in the 2012 Best High Schools rankings returned to the 2013 rankings as a gold, silver or bronze medal winner. In other words, nearly 40 percent of the high schools that were ranked in 2012 fell out of the rankings in 2013.

Of those that were gold in the 2012 rankings, 85 percent returned to the 2013 rankings as a gold, silver or bronze medal winner. Of those that were silver in the 2012 rankings, 71 percent returned to the 2013 rankings as a gold, silver or bronze medal winner. And of those that were bronze in the 2012 rankings, 56 percent returned to the 2013 rankings as a gold, silver or bronze medal winner.

These results show that the bronze high schools were much less consistent in their year-to-year performance on statewide tests than the gold and silver winners.

2. Changes in relative or absolute performance on college-level course work: Some ranked schools may have moved either up or down in the 2013 rankings compared with last year due to how their 12th-grade class in 2010-2011 participated in and performed on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams compared with the 2009-2010 class.

The determination of each school's college readiness is based upon the performance and participation of 12th-graders from the graduating class cohort in the most recent academic year – in this case, the 2010-2011 school year (i.e., whether or not these students took and passed any AP or IB exams during their years at the school, up to and including their senior year).

Many schools have experienced a change in their status, ranging from moving a few places in the gold medal rankings to changing medal status (from gold to silver, silver to bronze, bronze to gold or bronze to silver) due to changes in the level of a school's college readiness index.

3. New medal winners: Some schools were new to the 2013 rankings because they passed both Step 1 and Step 2 of this year's methodology but didn't pass both of those steps in 2012 and therefore weren't eligible for a gold, silver or bronze medal.

Other high schools became eligible to be ranked for the first time in 2013 since they were relatively new schools and had their first 12th-grade class graduate in 2010-2011.

In total, 1,710 or 36 percent of the high schools that were awarded a gold, sliver or bronze medal in the 2013 rankings were not ranked in 2012.

Corrected on : Corrected 4/24/13: An earlier version of this post misstated the proportion of schools that dropped out of the rankings in 2013.