We at NeighborhoodScout have many useful tools at our disposal - not the least of which is our patented method for comparing individual public schools on a national scale. By taking into account the performance of students on state and national tests, and measuring the discrepancies between the two, we’re able to effectively even a playing field otherwise wrought with variables. Using this method to level the playing field and compare all schools, we now have our 2015 ranking of the 100 best public schools in the United States.
Our ranking is unique in that it incorporates No Child Left Behind (NCLB) test results for each school in Reading and Math - which come from a system of standardized assessments determined by each state - and allows you to compare them from school to school across all states. While each state draws up their tests and determines their own benchmarks, the key to equalizing these and making them comparable to one another is by incorporating test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is the same across the country.
Here’s how these two tests are different:
The No Child Left Behind Act was proposed by George W. Bush in 2001, and passed in the Houses of Representatives and Senate later that year. It embodied an effort to hold schools accountable for their performance and provide incentives for improvement on a statewide level. States develop standardized test in areas of study, and all schools that wish to receive federal funding are required not only to reach the test’s benchmarks, but improve on them year-to-year. A number of systems were put in place outlining actions to be taken in the event that schools fell below benchmarks, such as allowing children to move schools, requiring schools to offer free tutoring in problematic areas of study, and - in extreme cases - wholesale re-staffing.
While NCLB ran its legislative course in 2007, schools are still required to adhere to it until a new law is put in place. This has led to a number of alternative tests or waivers, however for the most part the standardized testing of NCLB remains intact and a reliably universal measure for our comparison. But in order to compare one state’s NCLB performance with another, you’ll need to add in a metric applied consistently across the country - and that’s where the National Assessment of Educational Progress comes into play.
The NAEP began testing students across the country in the late 1970’s, and are still taken today every two years across the country. “The Nation’s Report Card,” as the results of the NAEP are called, is released regarding the four main subjects of: math, reading, science, and writing. Secondary subjects are also occasionally tested. Using a sampling procedure that includes a statistically significant sample of students in each state across all demographic backgrounds, results from the NAEP are used as a standard across the country to measure progress and implement curricular improvements. Most importantly, the study measures students against identical national benchmarks.
While ranking schools on their NAEP results would seem at first to be the most efficient way to do things, it’s far from ideal. This is because it’s only conducted with a sampling of students in each state - not all students from all schools. Conversely, comparing schools from one state to the next based solely on those school’s state’s NCLB performance is unreliable as each state’s exams are different. Thus, we had to find a way to compare schools from one state to another, while still taking into account the more tailored data provided by the NCLB results.
We’ve developed a method that solves this problem by incorporating both the state level NCLB and national level NAEP test results and measuring them based on the gap between the two scores for each school. This way, schools whose NCLB tests are closer to the high standards of the NCLB, and have students who do well on both tests (as opposed to just one), will perform better on our ranking. It’s a method completely unique to us--we hold the patent - and one that makes comparing The Anderson School (1) in New York City to Canyon Vista Middle School (100) in Austin, TX possible.
When you look at the geography of this ranking, there is a bit of interesting overlap with our 100 Safest Cities list. For example, the extremely high concentration of well-performing schools clustered around the New York City and Boston metropolitan areas.
There are a few notable exceptions, however -- such as the large number of schools in both the states of Texas and North Carolina. The high number and relative dispersal of schools ranking on this list in these states (and New York and Massachusetts) indicate that they have done a good job of having high NCLB standards that students achieve relative to their high performance on the NAEP benchmarks.
The takeaway is that scoring highly on this list demonstrates a considerable achievement for all schools included, and should be taken as a point of pride. For those not on this list, it can be seen as an excellent goal, far more holistic than measuring by state-specific No Child Left Behind test scores alone.
Click on any school name below to get a report