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NBRS Award Winners

Find this year's schools on our National Blue Ribbon Schools award winners list

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do schools become National Blue Ribbon Schools?

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 where at least 40% of students are from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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, the school must be in the top 40 percent of all 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, the school must be in the top 15 percent of all 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 over the past five years, comparing the most recent year to the earliest of the five years, 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, the school must be in the top 40 percent of all 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 high schools, the school must be in the top 40 percent of all high schools in the state when high schools are ranked on the most recently available graduation rate for each subgroup.
    4. The change in the performance of all students in the school over the past five years, comparing the most recent year to the earliest of the five years, must not be less than the change in the performance of all 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 and all subgroups, 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 2017 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.

Whom can I contact about the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program if I wish my school to be considered for nomination?

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.

Once my school is nominated and applies, what is the process and timeline for learning if we will be recognized?

Applications are screened for completeness, quality, accuracy, and eligibility issues. Feedback is provided to schools for final edits and modifications to the application before final submission.

Once reviews are completed, public schools must be certified by state CSSOs based on the most current 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.

Does National Blue Ribbon School status expire?

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.

What are the benefits and responsibilities of being recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education?

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.

What types of schools can become National Blue Ribbon Schools?

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.

What are the eligibility requirements to become a National Blue Ribbon School?

  1. The school configuration includes one or more of grades K-12. Schools on the same campus 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 has been in existence for five full years, that is, from at least September 2011 and tested grades must have been part of the school for at least the past three years.
  4. The nominated school has not received the National Blue Ribbon Schools award in the past five years: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, or 2016.
  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. The U.S. Department of Education reserves the right to disqualify a school’s application and/or rescind a school’s award if irregularities are later discovered and proven by the state.
  6. The nominated school has not been identified by the state as “persistently dangerous” within the last two years.
  7. The nominated school or district is not 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 has not 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 does 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 are 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.

Where can I find applications from previously recognized schools?

Successful applications for the 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 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.

How often can schools receive National Blue Ribbon School recognition?

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

What is the timeline for nominating, applying, and awarding a National Blue Ribbon Schools award?

Timeline for 2017 National Blue Ribbon Schools

Date Due
October 20, 2016 The Secretary sends a letter of invitation to the CSSOs and CAPE requesting nominations of schools.
November 30, 2016 Plans for public school nominations from CSSOs and non-public school nominations from CAPE are due to the Department.
December 12, 2016 Plans for nominations are reviewed for alignment with the general eligibility criteria of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program.
December 16, 2016 Non-public school applications are due to CAPE.
January 13, 2017 Public school nominations from states are due to the Department.
January 18, 2017 The Department invites schools nominated by CSSOs to apply for recognition as National Blue Ribbon Schools.
January 29, 2017 CAPE selects its non-public school nominations.
February 28, 2017 Selected non-public school applications are due to the Department.
March 31, 2017 Completed public school applications are due to the Department.
April-June, 2017 Applications are reviewed for completeness, quality and accuracy.
August, 2017 States certify that nominated public schools have met all eligibility requirements.
September, 2017 The Secretary announces the 2017 National Blue Ribbon Schools.
November, 2017 Two representatives from each school, the principal and a teacher, attend the recognition ceremony in Washington, DC.

More questions?

Contact NBRS. You may also contact Aba Kumi, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program Director. Email: Aba.Kumi at ed.gov   Phone: (202) 401-1767