Topping Post & U.S. News Rankings Is Especially Impressive… Because They’re So Different

The congratulations and celebrations began Sunday evening (April, 17, 2016) for students and teachers at six BASIS.ed schools the only six eligible for new top high school rankings published by The Washington Post.

One night hence, students and teachers at four of those schools added the U.S. News & World Report feather into their rankings caps.

BASIS.ed CEO Peter Bezanson, however, was especially proud of this double delivery of delightful dispatch.

“These rankings aren’t a given — although we strive for them every year. We don’t try to achieve them specifically. But we know that the notion of offering to students the great education we deliver translates to excellent, ‘rank-worthy’ schools,” Bezanson said. “But it’s also important to note that these are two distinct rankings. They’re different. It truly is apples and oranges, and we’re very pleased, times two, with both fruits of the labor of our students and teachers!”

“I think the fact that BASIS.ed schools top both The Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report lists — despite their extremely different methodologies — is the story here,” said Arwynn Gilroy, BASIS.ed’s Managing Director of Academic Data and Systems. “BASIS schools are great — and that is true no matter how you measure greatness!”

Bezanson and Gilroy are right. The lists came out just 24 hours apart — which is actually anomalous, compared to previous years when they commonly were published weeks from each other. Further, even the basic data that each measures is quite different. The only similarity is that both rankings look at Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) data — though they both use different measures of each of those for their analysis.

Here’s a rundown of the differences and similarities. It’s also interesting that The Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report use different data years. For the brand new 2016 rankings, the Post used 2015 data, and U.S. News used data from 2014.

The most striking takeaway may be how BASIS.ed network schools, yet again, do so well in both analyses.


The data utilized by The Washington Post is all self-reported. The Post’s veteran education writer, Jay Mathews, sends out a survey to eligible schools. The schools’ leaders complete these surveys themselves.

The Post only uses the number of 12th grade graduates, as well as the total number of AP exams (9th grade – 12th grade) to calculate the Post‘s unique “Challenge Index” — which is what the ranking is based on.

However, as Gilroy points out, “BASIS.ed schools actually do report more data than this to the Post.”

The Washington Post also asks for the following statistics:

  1. Total number of AP tests given in 2015 (9th-12th grade students)
  2. Total number of IB or AICE tests given in 2015. (Do NOT count IB TOK or extended essay grades)
  3. For those high schools that give both AP and IB, we also need to know how many AP tests in 2015 were taken by IB students who also took an IB test in that same subject that year. We will subtract those overlapping AP tests from the total.
  4. Total number of seniors who graduated in May or June of 2015. (Do NOT count certificates of completion)
  5. Percentage of AP tests with scores of 3 or above or IB tests with scores of 4 or above (9-12 students)
  6. The percentage of total school enrollment that qualified for free or reduced lunch subsidies.
  7. Your “Equity and Excellence” percentage. (This can be found in your AP grade report. It breaks down Equity and Excellence into several categories. We want the “GRADUATING CLASS SUMMARY.” That Equity and Excellence number is the percentage of the ENTIRE senior class who got at least a3 on at least one AP test some time in high school. If you are an IB school, we would love your best estimate of the percentage of your total graduating class that had at least one 4 on one IB test in high school. If you give both IB and AP tests, then we would love a combined figure: the percentage of all graduating seniors who had at least a 3 on an AP test or a 4 on an IB test in high school. We will take your best estimate.)
  8. Average TOTAL score (out of 2400) on the SAT, or the average ACT score, for your class of 2015.
  9. Do you use AVID or any other program that puts disadvantaged students with the potential to succeed in AP, IB or Cambridge courses in regularly scheduled classes that teach study habits and provide tutoring in subjects that challenge them most? YES NO

(Chart courtesy of Arwynn Gilroy and BASIS.ed.)

On the other hand, U.S. News is not self-reported data. U.S. News collects its data from state departments of education, the Common Core of Data (CCD) at the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the College Board and the International Baccalaureate Organization. You can take a look at the methodology for the 2016 U.S. News & World Report rankings here and the technical appendix here).

And, here are some basic overviews for the methodology:

“Best High Schools” Ranking Criteria

The Washington Post – 2015 Challenge Index Analytical Methodology:

How the Ranking is Calculated: Total number of AP/IB exams taken (9 – 12) / number of graduates

Eligibility: To be eligible for the ranking the high school must have a stable graduating class size that is representative (in size) of the entire 9th–12th grade population.

U.S. News & World Report – Analytical Methodology (for 2014):

How the Ranking is Calculated:

Step 1: The first step determined whether each school’s students were performing better than statistically expected for students in that state.

Step 2: For schools passing the first step, the second step assessed whether their disadvantaged students — black, Hispanic and low-income – were outperforming disadvantaged students in the state.

Step 3: U.S. News introduced a new Step 3 to the methodology for the 2016 rankings. Schools now have to meet or surpass a basic benchmark for their graduation rate (68% or higher).

Step 4: Schools that made it through the first three steps became eligible to be judged nationally on the final step — college-readiness performance – using Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test data as the benchmark for success, depending on which program was largest at the school. 

Step 4A: “College Readiness Index” — the number of 12th grade students who took at least one AP or IB test before or during their senior year divided by the number of 12th graders (weighted – 25%)

Step 4B: “Quality Adjusted AP or IB Participation Rate” — the number of 12th grade students who took and passed at least one of the tests before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th graders (weighted 75%).


1st Tiebreaker: Quality Adjusted Exams Per Test Taker: average number of exams with passing scores (per students who took those exams)

2nd Tiebreaker: Exams Per Test Taker: average number of tests taken (per students who took those exams)


To be eligible for the U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools ranking, the school must have an enrollment of at least 15 students in 12th Grade during the school year for which data was analyzed.

Bezanson Sums It Up

Peter Bezanson shakes his head in seeming wonder as he checks out the rankings — and how different they are. “I know a lot of our Heads of School speak to how proud they are when their school is ranked. They talk about how it ‘validates’ the teachers they see working hard each day, or the parents who made a decision to try something new, or the students who go to class with such consistent eagerness.

“For all of them, and for the hardworking employees at BASIS.ed, too, the fact that we’re recognized as having some of the nation’s best schools by not one but both of the renowned rankings lists published in this country, vastly different though they be…” he pauses. “That’s validation, too. And well deserved.”

Phil Handler

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