U.S. News & World Report's third 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 2013 U.S. News Best High Schools rankings as of April 23, 2013. That meant that the top 500 ranked high schools were eligible for the STEM rankings using data about their 2011 graduates.
Those eligible schools were next judged nationally on their level of math and science participation and success, using Advanced Placement STEM test data for 2011 graduates as the benchmark to conduct the analysis. The U.S. News Best High Schools for STEM rankings methodology does 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 for each school that was included in the top 500 of the 2013 Best High Schools rankings, based on the percentage of their 2011 graduates who were AP test-takers who had also taken and passed college-level AP STEM Math and AP STEM Science tests. The higher a high school scored on the STEM Achievement Index, the better 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 2011 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 2011 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 2011 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 2011 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 STEM courses at the high school level at 25 percent and passing those same AP STEM courses at 75 percent. In other words, passing both AP math and science tests was three times as important in the rankings as simply taking AP math and science courses.
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 rankings were 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 high schools that achieved a value of greater than or equal to 66.3 in their STEM Achievement Index scored high enough to be numerically ranked. That high index cutoff point was used since it meant that all the high schools at or above that level in the STEM rankings had, on average, around two-thirds or more of their 2011 12th grade AP test-takers take and pass one AP STEM Math and one AP STEM Science test.