Frequently Asked Questions: Best High Schools Rankings

Here are answers to common questions about the U.S. News Best High Schools rankings.

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U.S. News also conducted a new demographic profile of the 4,805 gold, silver and bronze medal winners that breaks down the ranked schools in terms of poverty distribution, minority distribution, school structure and community environment.

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10. Why did some schools' rankings change in the 2013 Best High Schools rankings when compared with the last rankings published in May 2012?

There are a number of possible reasons why high schools moved up or down or were no longer included in the 2013 Best High Schools rankings.

• Changes in relative performance on state tests: Some schools which were ranked in the 2012 Best High Schools rankings fell off the 2013 Best High Schools ranking list completely because they are no longer among the best-performing schools on their statewide tests – specifically, whether their overall student performance on state tests exceeds statistical expectations (Step 1) or their least advantaged students' performance is not as good as the state average (Step 2).

Without successfully meeting both Steps 1 and 2 as described above, schools are not eligible for the national competition for a gold, silver or bronze medal and don't appear in the rankings.

• Changes in relative or absolute performance on college-level course work: Some schools may have moved either up or down in the rankings because of how the performance and participation of their 12th-grade class cohort on AP or IB exams compares with the performance of the class cohort from a year earlier.

The determination of 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.

How do the 2013 Best High Schools rankings compare to the 2012 rankings?

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.

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 there was far greater year-to-year performance volatility among the high schools that were ranked bronze than those that were ranked gold or silver.

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11. How were the 2013 Best High Schools rankings in each state and the Best Magnet and Best Charter Schools rankings calculated?

• State rankings: The state rankings methodology is based on whether a high school is nationally ranked gold or silver. All high schools nationally ranked gold and silver are numerically ranked in their state based on their position in the national rankings.

If the highest-ranked high school in a state is No. 60 nationally, then that school is also ranked No. 1 in that state; if the second highest-ranked school in that same state is No. 1,201 nationally, then that school is ranked No. 2 in that state.

• Charter and magnet rankings: The charter and magnet school rankings methodology looked at all public high schools nationally that were designated as either a charter or magnet school, or both, as reported to the U.S. Department of Education, and were also nationally ranked by U.S. News as either gold or silver medal winners.

If the highest-ranked high school that is a charter school is No. 6 nationally, then that school is also ranked No. 1 in the Best Charter Schools rankings. If the second highest-ranked high school that is a charter school is No. 8 nationally, then that school is ranked No. 2 in the Best Charter Schools rankings.