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Frequently Asked Questions

Both public and non-public schools are eligible for the National Blue Ribbon Schools award based on school performance. Schools may be nominated for the award only once within a five-year period.

Public schools are nominated by their Chief State School Officer (CSSO). All states, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), are invited to apply. The U.S. Department of Education determines the number of nominations per state [PDF, 20K] based on the number of K-12 students and schools in each state.

One-third of the public schools nominated by each state must serve student populations with high percentages of students are from disadvantaged backgrounds (typically at least 40%).

Once schools are nominated by their CSSO, they are invited by the Department to apply for the award. The current National Blue Ribbon Schools Program application can be found at: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/nclbbrs/applicant.html.

Public schools nominated for the National Blue Ribbon Schools award must meet one of two performance award criteria:

  1. Exemplary High Performing Schools: “High performing” is defined by the CSSO of each state, but at a minimum means:
    1. The school must be in the top 15 percent of all schools in the state when schools are ranked on
      1. the performance of all students who participated in the most recently administered state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics, or
      2. a composite index that includes these assessment results and may also include assessment results in other subject areas and/or other student performance measures, such as attendance or graduation rates.
    2. For each of the school’s subgroups meeting the State’s minimum size requirement, the school must be in the top 40 percent of all public schools in the state when schools are ranked on
      1. the performance of all students in the subgroup who participated in the most recently administered state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics, or
      2. a composite index that includes these assessment results and may also include assessment results in other subject areas and/or other student performance measures, such as attendance or graduation rates for high schools.
    3. For high schools, the school must be in the top 15 percent of all high schools in the state when high schools are ranked on the most recently available graduation rate.
  2. Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools: “Achievement gap closing” is defined by the CSSO of each state, but at a minimum means:
    1. For each of the school’s subgroups meeting the State’s minimum size requirement, the school must be in the top 15 percent of all public schools in the state when schools are ranked on the school’s progress in closing the gap between the performance of the school’s subgroup and the state’s all-students group (comparing the most recent school year in which the state assessments were administered and the school year 2-4 years prior to that) on
      1. the state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics, or
      2. a composite index that includes these assessment results and may also include assessment results in other subject areas and/or other student performance measures, such as attendance or graduation rates.
    2. For each of the school’s subgroups meeting the State’s minimum size requirement, the school must be in the top 40 percent of all public schools in the state when schools are ranked on
      1. the performance of all students in the subgroup who participated in the most recently administered state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics, or
      2. a composite index that includes these assessment results and may also include assessment results in other subject areas and/or other student performance measures, such as attendance or graduation rates.
    3. For each of a high school’s subgroups meeting the State’s minimum size requirement, the high school must be in the top 40 percent of all public high schools in the state when high schools are ranked on the most recently available graduation rate for the subgroup.
    4. The increase in the performance of all students in the school between the most recent school year in which the state assessments were administered and the school year 2-4 years prior to that, must not be less than the increase over the same period in the performance of all public school students in the state on
      1. the state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics, or
      2. a composite index that includes these assessment results and may also include assessment results in other subject areas or other student performance measures, such as attendance or graduation rates.

In addition to meeting the above performance criteria, a nominated school must have at least 100 students enrolled and have assessment data for at least 10 students in each tested grade for both reading (or English language arts) and mathematics. States with a large percentage of schools with fewer than 100 students enrolled may include up to a similar percentage of these schools in their nominations. However, each school must have assessment data for at least 10 students in each tested grade for both reading (or English language arts) and mathematics.

All nominated public schools must meet the state’s performance targets in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics and other academic indicators (i.e., attendance rate and graduation rate), for the all students group, including having participation rates of at least 95 percent using the most recent accountability results available for nomination. Finally, all nominated public schools must be certified by states prior to September 2019 in order to meet all eligibility requirements.

Non-public schools are nominated by the Council for American Private Education (CAPE). Additional information is on CAPE’s website.

Non-public schools nominated for the National Blue Ribbon Schools award must meet the following school performance eligibility criteria:

  1. Exemplary High Performing Schools: “High performing” means:
    1. That the achievement of the school’s students in the most recent year tested places the school in the top 15 percent in the nation in English language arts and mathematics as measured by a nationally normed test or in the top 15 percent of its state as measured by a state test. If a non-public school administers both state tests and nationally normed tests, the school must be in the top 15 percent in both.
    2. Disaggregated results for student groups, including students from disadvantaged backgrounds, must be similar to the results for all students tested.
    3. The graduation rate for non-public high schools must be 95% or higher in the most recent year.
  1. Yes; the school configuration must include one or more of grades K through 12. Schools on the same campus (same address) with one principal, even a K-12 school, must apply as an entire school.
  2. If the school includes grades 7 or higher, the school must offer foreign language as a part of its curriculum.
  3. The school should have been in existence for five full years, that is, from at least September 2013 and tested grades must have been part of the school for at least the past three years.
  4. The nominated school should not have received the National Blue Ribbon Schools award in the past five years: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, or 2018.
  5. The nominated school has no history of testing irregularities, nor have charges of irregularities been brought against the school at the time of nomination. If irregularities are later discovered and proven by the state, the U.S. Department of Education reserves the right to disqualify a school’s application and/or rescind a school’s award.
  6. The nominated school should not have been identified by the state within the last two years as “persistently dangerous.”
  7. The nominated school or district should not be refusing Office of Civil Rights (OCR) access to information necessary to investigate a civil rights complaint or to conduct a district wide compliance review.
  8. The OCR should not have issued a violation letter of findings to the school district concluding that the nominated school or the district as a whole has violated one or more of the civil rights statutes. A violation letter of findings will not be considered outstanding if OCR has accepted a corrective action plan from the district to remedy the violation.
  9. The U.S. Department of Justice should not have a pending suit alleging that the nominated school or the school district as a whole has violated one or more of the civil rights statutes or the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
  10. There should be no findings of violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in a U.S. Department of Education monitoring report that apply to the school or school district in question; or if there are such findings, the state or district has corrected, or agreed to correct, the findings.

Following the receipt of school nominations from States, the Department invites nominated schools to apply for the award. After schools submit their applications for recognition, they are screened for completeness, quality, accuracy, and eligibility issues. Schools are provided with feedback and provided an opportunity to modify and improve their application before final submission.

Once reviews are completed, public schools must be certified by state CSSOs based on the school’s most current performance on state assessments in order to receive the National Blue Ribbon Schools award. Because state assessment results may not be available and announced until late summer, the Department usually announces the new National Blue Ribbon Schools in September of the year after a school’s initial nomination. The recognition ceremony takes place in mid-fall. The entire process, from initial nomination to receiving the award, takes about a year.

The timeline for the 2019 cohort of National Blue Ribbon Schools is as follows:

Timeline for 2019 National Blue Ribbon Schools

Date Due
September, 2018 The Secretary of Education sends a letter of invitation to the CSSOs and CAPE requesting nominations of eligible schools.
November 30, 2018 Nomination processes and data for public schools being considered for nomination from CSSOs and interested non-public school nominations from CAPE are due to the Department.
December 14, 2018 Nomination processes and data for public schools being considered for nomination are reviewed by ED and a NBRS Assessment panel for alignment with the general eligibility criteria of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program.
December 19, 2018 Non-public school applications are due to CAPE.
January 13, 2019 Approved public school nominations are entered by states into online portal.
January 15, 2019 The Department invites schools nominated by CSSOs to apply for recognition as National Blue Ribbon Schools.
January 22, 2019 The Department invites public schools nominated by CSSOs to apply for recognition as National Blue Ribbon Schools.
January 29, 2019 CAPE selects its non-public school nominations.
March 29, 2019 Completed public and non-public school applications are due to the Department.
April-June, 2019 Applications are reviewed for completeness, quality and accuracy.
August, 2019 States certify that nominated public schools have met all eligibility requirements.
September, 2019 The Secretary of Education announces the 2019 National Blue Ribbon Schools (public and non-public).
November, 2019 Two representatives from each school, (the principal and a teacher) and the superintendent, attend the recognition ceremony in Washington, DC.

The National Blue Ribbon School award acknowledges and validates the hard work of students, educators, families, and communities in striving for—and attaining—exemplary achievement. For many educators, receiving the award is the realization of a long-held dream. Local and state media eagerly profile recognized schools, helping the school, its district, and community gain additional exposure.

National Blue Ribbon Schools serve as models of effective school practices for state and district educators and other schools throughout the nation, NBRS personnel are often sought out as mentors. Successful applications, posted on the NBRS website, detail key elements of successful schools, from individualized student supports, intentional instruction, collaborative cultures, and targeted curricula. Representatives from schools are honored at an annual awards ceremony held in Washington, DC. Each school receives an engraved plaque and program flag with the official seal signifying its status and the year of its award.

Public and non-public elementary, middle, and high schools can be awarded National Blue Ribbon status. This includes charter, magnet, choice, and schools with religious affiliations.

If you represent a public school and believe your school qualifies for National Blue Ribbon School status, you may contact the NBRS state liaison affiliated with your State Department of Education. While most states do nominate public schools for this prestigious award, a few choose not to participate.

If you represent a non-public school, please contact the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) by email: brs@capenet.org or phone (301) 916.8460. Additional information is on CAPE’s website.

A school’s National Blue Ribbon School status does not expire. Once a school receives the award, it remains a National Blue Ribbon School. However, school representatives must always use the year of the award when identifying their school as a National Blue Ribbon School.

For example:

Central High School,
2011 National Blue Ribbon School
is correct.

Central High School,
National Blue Ribbon School
is not correct.

Schools, both public and non-public, may be nominated for the award only once within a five-year period.

The National Blue Ribbon School logo can only be requested by the recognized school.

Recognized schools can Contact NBRS for information.

Successful applications for the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 schools are available on the NBRS website at https://nationalblueribbonschools.ed.gov/awardwinners/.

Please note that application questions may change from year to year. While reading previous applications can be useful, prior responses may not be the best way to address the current application’s questions.

Contact NBRS or Aba Kumi, Director of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program at: Aba.Kumi@ed.gov or Phone: (202) 401-1767

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