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U.S. News and World Report’s Top High School Rankings Are Released

This week, U.S. News and World Report released its much-anticipated rankings of the Top High Schools in the Country. Founded in 1933 as a weekly news magazine, U.S. News and World Report first began ranking colleges and graduate schools in 1984 and has since expanded to rank hospitals, cars, states, and high schools. Its first high school rankings were published in 2007.


Since their inception, U.S. News and World Report high school rankings have been based primarily on student outcomes with an emphasis on graduation rates and state proficiency tests. This year, a new tie-breaker was introduced, incorporating Advanced Placement® exams and pass rates.


Over 22,000 schools were considered for the 2017 rankings. In addition to the rankings for overall Top High Schools, rankings were also established for Top Charter Schools, Top STEM Schools, and Top Magnet Schools


The process for ranking high schools is a multistep evaluation conducted by an independent social science research firm. First, standardized testing results are weighed, and particular weight is given to high achieving schools with high percentages of disadvantaged students. Next, graduation rates are considered, and finally the percentage of seniors who took at least one AP exam is calculated and the school’s overall AP exam pass rate is weighed.


Schools that met minimum achievement levels in each of the categories above were awarded either Gold or Silver recognition, depending on their precise performance levels. Schools that met minimum achievement levels for standardized testing and graduation rates, but did not meet the minimum AP participation standards, were awarded Bronze level recognition.   


Highlights from this year’s rankings include five Arizona schools placing in the top ten nationally. Each of the top-ranked Arizona schools is a charter managed by the BASIS Educational Group. These schools, with their heavy emphasis on academics and AP coursework, have a history of appearing in the top-ten. Last year, the three BASIS schools that rounded out the top-ten were the only top-ten schools that do not require an entry test in order to attend.  An article appearing in Forbes stressed the high expectations and “old-fashioned” instruction at BASIS schools.


The remainder of the schools rounding out the top-ten are a selection of test-in schools and charters with strict achievement standards required for continued enrollment. Although 80% of the schools on the list are regular public schools, they tend to appear lower in ranking than many charter schools, which tend to have more stringent achievement standards for continued enrollment, and magnets, which often require admissions tests. 

The rankings were criticized this year after International Baccalaureate (IB) programs refused to provide data that it has offered for these rankings in the past. For this reason, IB schools were excluded from the rankings entirely. Other schools were also excluded if they did not meet minimum enrollment standards or chose not to provide parts of the required data for evaluation.


Because of the number of schools that are excluded, the rankings should always be taken with a grain of salt. Although attending a top-ranked school and doing well there can only help your college admissions chances, attending a school with a lower ranking or one that is not ranked at all is not necessarily a detriment to your application. If you achieve at a high level consistently and perform well on standardized tests and college-level coursework, you can undoubtedly prove your ability to succeed at a high level.


High school rankings, while a good indicator of the overall quality of education at a specific school, are often criticized as an imprecise science. Some charters and magnets have a more selective study body to begin with, so they are able to boast higher levels of student achievement. If you attend a highly ranked school, your performance there might be taken more seriously than performing well at an unranked school, but generally it is difficult to compare the performance of any single student at one high school with that of a single student at another high school, without also taking into account the multitude of other factors weighed on your college application.


For this reason, high school rankings are something to celebrate for high-ranking schools, but they don’t need to be a source of stress for students who attend lower ranked or unranked schools. Ultimately, when you apply to college, it is your personal performance that will matter the most, not the performance of your high school.


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For more about how your high school experience will shape your college admissions experience, check out these CollegeVine posts:


Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.