The 2008 U.S.News & World Report America's Best High Schools methodology, developed by School Evaluation Services, a K-12 education data research business run by Standard & Poor's, is based on the key principles that a great high school must serve all its students well, not just those who are bound for college, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes that show the school is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.
We analyzed 18,790 public high schools in 40 states using data from the 2005-2006 school year. This is the total number of public high schools in each state that had grade 12 enrollment and sufficient data to analyze for the 2005-2006 school year. A three-step process determined the best high schools. The first two steps ensured that the schools serve all of their students well, using state proficiency standards as the measuring benchmarks. For those schools that made it past the first two steps, a third step assessed the degree to which schools prepared students for college-level work.
College readiness. The first step determined whether each school's students were performing better than statistically expected for the average student in their state. We started by looking at reading and math test results for all students on each state's high school test. We then factored in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students (who tend to score lower) enrolled at the school to find which schools were performing better than their statistical expectations.
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 disadvantaged student groups and then selected schools that were performing better than this state average.
Schools that made it through those first two steps became eligible to be judged nationally on the final step: college-readiness performance, using Advanced Placement data as the benchmark for success. (AP is a College Board program that offers college-level courses at high schools across the country.) 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 weighted average of the AP participation rate (the number of 12th-grade students who took at least one AP test before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th graders) along with how well the students did on those AP tests or quality-adjusted AP participation (the number of 12th-grade students who took and passed (received an AP score of 3 or higher) at least one AP test before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th graders at that school). For the college readiness index, the quality-adjusted AP participation rates were weighted 75 percent in the calculation, and 25 percent of the weight was placed on the simple AP participation rate. Only schools that had values greater than 20 in their college readiness index scored high enough to meet this criterion for gold medal selection. The minimum of 20 was used since it represents what it would take to have a "critical mass" of students gaining access to college-level coursework.
The top 100 high schools nationwide with the highest college readiness index scores were ranked numerically (ties were broken using the average number of AP exams passed per test taker) and awarded gold medals. The next 405 top-performing high schools nationwide based on their college readiness index earned silver medals. An additional 1,086 high schools in 40 states that passed the first two steps were awarded bronze medals.
Why Some States (and D.C.) Weren't Included
Analysts from School Evaluation Services developed the methodology and compiled the analysis. At schoolmatters.com, SES provides one of the largest, most easily searchable collections of education data ever available.