US News annually ranks the top performing US high schools, not only nationally but also by state. This report, recently released for 2013, is a great way to see how the schools in your area are performing, as well as an opportunity to reflect on what makes a great high school in the first place. This year, the rankings also include “best charter schools,” “best magnet schools,” and “best STEM schools.”

To rank more than 21,000 public high schools, US News analyzed massive amounts of data with the help of the American Institutes for Research, one of the world’s largest social science research organizations. The rankings methodology attempts to gauge each school’s ability to 1) serve all students, not just those planning to attend college; and 2) successfully educate students across multiple performance indicators.

The result of these core principles is a three-step rankings process. Schools that rank strongly after the first two steps are then assessed based on the third step:

  • Step 1 measures whether a school’s students performed better than the statistical average for the state. This was judged by looking at reading and math results for state proficiency tests. Factored in with this data is the percentage of economically disadvantaged students, which hopes to highlight schools that are performing above statistical expectations.
  • Schools that rank well after Step 1 are then ranked according to Step 2, which measured whether the school’s “least-advantaged students” (minority and/or low-income) were outperforming the state average.
  • Schools that made the cut after Step 2 were judged nationally on college readiness performance using Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test data. This analysis hoped to measure which schools produced the best college-level achievement for the highest percentage of students, based on advanced course/test participation rates. (US News also awards gold, silver and bronze medals based on these rankings.)

Based on the percentage of its eligible schools earning gold and silver medals, the top performers by state were California, Maryland and Connecticut. These states were most successful at preparing students for college based on this analysis. California also had the most total gold medal schools (94) followed by New York (65) and Texas (46). There were six states with only one gold medal school, and twelve states had no gold medal schools at all.

The #1 ranked high school, the School for the Talented and Gifted, pushes students to be college-ready prior to graduation by taking at least eleven AP-level courses. Many of its students also conduct field research through partnerships with local universities.

Why are these results useful? For families that are moving or want to compare their local schools, the rankings give a consistent indication of which schools are most likely to offer their children the best preparation for college. Attending a top-ranked high school can not only ease the transition to college, but also help students accrue college credits, scholarships and/or marketable skills while they’re still in high school.

The rankings also give school districts a way to see how they stack up against other schools, and hopefully give educators a sense of what is working and not working across schools, districts and states.

Do you see these rankings as valuable for educators? And how do you think they could potentially impact students, either positively or negatively?

Featured image courtesy of cliff1066.

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