U.S. News & World Report's second annual Best High Schools for STEM rankings methodology was developed by U.S. News and is based on the key principle that students at the Best High Schools for STEM must participate in and pass a robust curriculum of college-level math and science STEM courses. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.
To be included in the U.S. News Best High Schools for STEM rankings, a public high school first had to be listed as a gold medal winner in the U.S. News Best High Schools rankings as of May 22, 2012. That meant that nearly 500 ranked high schools were eligible for the STEM rankings using data of their 2010 graduates.
Those eligible schools were next judged nationally on their level of math and science participation and success, using Advanced Placement (AP) STEM test data as the benchmark. The STEM rankings methodology did not rely on any data from the U.S. Department of Education.
AP is a College Board program that offers college-level courses at high schools across the country. College Board defines STEM Math as APs in Calculus AB; Calculus BC; Computer Science A; Computer Science AB; and Statistics, and STEM Science as APs in Biology; Chemistry; Environmental Science; Physics B; Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism; and Physics C: Mechanics.
Math and science success at the high school level was assessed by computing a STEM Achievement Index, based on the proportion of 2010 graduates who were AP test takers at each school and had taken and passed college-level AP math and science tests. The better a high school scored on the STEM Achievement Index, the higher it placed in the Best High Schools for STEM rankings.
The maximum STEM Achievement Index value is 100.0. No public high school evaluated achieved that top score.
The first step in the rankings process was to compute the STEM Math Achievement Index. It was derived from two variables: the percentage of 2010 graduates who were AP test takers and took at least one AP STEM Math course during high school—weighted 25 percent—and the percentage of 2010 graduates who were AP STEM Math test takers who passed (received an AP score of 3 or higher) at least one AP STEM Math test during high school—weighted 75 percent.
The next step was to calculate a STEM Science Achievement Index. Much like the math index, it was derived from the percentage of 2010 graduates who were AP test takers and took at least one AP STEM Science course during high school—weighted 25 percent—and the percentage of 2010 graduates who were AP STEM Science test takers who passed (received an AP score of 3 or higher) at least one AP STEM Science test during high school—weighted 75 percent.
This means that the methodology weights students taking AP math and science courses at the high school level at 25 percent and passing those same AP STEM courses at 75 percent. In other words, passing AP math and science tests was three times as important in the rankings as simply taking an AP math and science course.
The final step in the rankings process was to calculate the overall STEM Achievement Index, a combination of the STEM Math Achievement Index and the STEM Science Achievement Index. Each index was weighted at 50 percent, and then added together to create a composite value that is the STEM Achievement Index score.
The STEM ranking was based on sorting the unrounded (to many decimal places) STEM Achievement Index in descending order, with the top-ranked schools having the highest index values. The STEM Achievement Index was then rounded to the nearest 10th place for online publication.
The top 250 schools that achieved a value of greater than or equal to 65.7 in their STEM Achievement Index scored high enough to be numerically ranked. That high cutoff point was used since it meant that all the high schools at or above that level in the STEM rankings had on average two thirds or more of their 12th grade AP test takers take and pass one AP math and science test.
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