The Newsweek High School Rankings evaluates schools on a broad range of criteria in order to identify schools that excel at preparing students for college and overcome the obstacles posed by socioeconomic inequality. The question, “What are the best schools?” has two different answers depending on whether or not student poverty is taken into account. In an effort to address the effect of socioeconomic disadvantage on education, Newsweek is publishing two lists: “America’s Top High Schools 2015,” which ranks schools solely based on performance (our “absolute” list) and “Beating the Odds 2015,” which ranks schools based on performance while also controlling for student poverty rates (our ‘relative’ list).
In collaboration with research partner Westat, Newsweek developed a three-step methodology for our High School Rankings:
Short List Analysis: First, we evaluated the universe of regular public high schools based on their proficiency rates on standardized state-level math and reading/language arts assessments, using the proficiency rates to create a high school achievement index for each school. For the absolute list, the index was used to identify high schools that perform at or above the 70th percentile within each state. For the relative list, the index was used to identify high schools that perform 0.5 standard deviations or more than their state’s average when accounting for students’ socioeconomic status as reflected by the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The data for this first step of our analysis were obtained from the public EdFacts and Common Core Data databases provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Ranking Analysis: We surveyed the high schools on both lists identified in the short list analysis for college-readiness data. For those high schools that participated in our survey, we created a weighted College Readiness Index based on the following six indicators:
- College Enrollment Rate—25 percent
- Graduation Rate—20 percent
- Weighted AP/IB/Dual Enrollment composite—17.5 percent
- Weighted SAT/ACT composite—17.5 percent
- Student Retention (change in student enrollment between 9th and 12th grades; this measure is intended to control for dropout rates)—10 percent
- Counselor-to-Student Ratio—10 percent
For the absolute rankings, we rank-ordered the schools by their College Readiness Index scores. The College Readiness Score that you see on our absolute list is the percentile rank for each participating school’s College Readiness Index. For the relative list, we controlled for student poverty levels. Specifically, we created a scatterplot (example below) with each school’s College Readiness Index and percentage of students eligible for free and reduced priced lunches; we then ranked the schools based on how well they performed relative to the average relationship between schools' college readiness index scores and percentage of economically disadvantaged students, indicated by the line of best fit. The College Readiness Score that you see on our relative list is the percentile rank for the residual (vertical distance from the line of best fit) of each school’s College Readiness Index.
Equity (Gold Star) Analysis: Within the top high schools identified in the ranking analysis, we then identified schools in which economically disadvantaged students performed at or above the state average for all students on standardized state reading/language arts and mathematics assessments. This part of the analysis did not affect the rankings. Instead, we incorporated this step to recognize schools that have equitable academic performance for economically disadvantaged students as indicated by their performance levels relative to the state average for all students on both the R/LA and mathematics assessments. These schools are marked with a gold star on our ranking lists*.
*A large number of schools did not have sufficient data available from the National Center for Education Statistics to be included in our equity analysis.
The full technical brief on our methodology is provided below.