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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.

In order to be eligible for nomination, a school must meet several criteria based on the performance of its students on state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics or a composite of performance on these assessments with other measures of student performance (e.g., student growth on state assessments, performance on state assessments in other subjects, graduation rates, or other indicators in the state’s accountability system).

Note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtually no states administered assessments in the past 2019-2020 school year. Based on input from state NBRS liaisons, it appears feasible for most states to nominate additional schools based on assessment results for the 2018-2019 school year. In the performance criteria for nominating schools described below, all references to most recent state assessment results, graduation rates, measures of college and career readiness, and other measures refer to results for the 2018-2019 school year.

The performance criteria for high schools have been expanded to include a measure of college and career readiness (CCR). This measure should reflect the CCR indicator(s) for high schools in the state’s accountability system (e.g., attendance, participation/performance in advanced coursework or CTE classes or workplace learning, performance on college entry exams, postsecondary enrollment, trade school or workforce enrollment, etc.).

A school may be nominated in either of two performance award categories: Exemplary High Performing and Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing. The student performance criteria that a school must meet in order to be nominated in each of these two categories are described below.

  1. Exemplary High Performing Schools: “High performing” is defined by the CSSO of each state, but at a minimum means that the school meets the performance criteria summarized in the following table:
    1.	Exemplary High Performing Schools

    1. Whole School Performance. All schools are ranked (the state may rank schools based on all grades served or rank schools separately for different grade spans or grades.) based on the performance of all students in the school on the most recently administered state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics (this includes students tested with accommodations). The state may rank schools on these two subjects separately or rank schools on the two subjects combined (e.g., sum or average). The state may also combine performance on these assessments with other measures of student performance (e.g., student growth on state assessments, performance on state assessments in other subjects, graduation rates, or other indicators in the state’s accountability system) and rank the schools on the resulting composite score/index. Schools in the top 15 percent of each ranking for reading/ELA and mathematics (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index) meet the threshold for this criterion.
    2. School Subgroup Performance. For each of the state’s subgroups (states are encouraged to nominate schools based on the performance of the subgroups included in their accountability system), all schools are ranked based on the performance of the students in that subgroup on the most recently administered state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index). Schools in the top 40 percent of each ranking for each of their sufficiently large subgroups (a “sufficiently large subgroup” is one that meets the minimum “n-size” for subgroups in the state’s accountability system.) meet the threshold for this criterion.
    3. High School Graduation Rate and CCR Measure. All high schools are ranked based on the state’s 2018-2019 graduation rate and on the most recent measure of CCR (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index). (If a state uses a composite in 1a that includes graduation rate and CCR measure(s) for ranking high schools, their composite scores may be identical to their composite scores used in 1c.) High schools in the top 15 percent of each ranking meet the threshold for this criterion.
  2. Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools: “Achievement gap closing” is defined by the CSSO of each state, but at a minimum means that the school meets the performance criteria summarized in the following table:
    Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools

    1. School Subgroup Improvement. For each of the state’s subgroups, (States are encouraged to nominate schools based on the performance of the subgroups included in their accountability system.) all schools are ranked based on the increase in the performance of that subgroup on the most recently administered state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index), comparing the results for the most recent school year in which the state assessments were administered to the results for the school year 2-4 years before. Schools in the top 15 percent of each ranking for at least one of their sufficiently large subgroups (A “sufficiently large subgroup” is one that meets the minimum “n-size” for subgroups in the state’s accountability system.) meet the threshold for this criterion.
    2. School Subgroup Performance. For each of the state’s subgroups, all schools are ranked based on the performance of the students in that subgroup on the most recently administered state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index). Schools in the top 40 percent of each ranking for each of their sufficiently large subgroups meet the threshold for this criterion.
    3. High School Subgroup Graduation Rate and CCR Measure. For each of the state’s subgroups, all high schools are ranked based on the state’s graduation rate for the 2018-2019 school year and on the most recent measure of CCR (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index). High schools in the top 40 percent of this ranking for each of their sufficiently large subgroups meet the threshold for this criterion.
    4. Whole School Improvement. In order for a school to meet the threshold for this criterion, the increase in the performance of all students in the school on state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index), comparing the results for the most recent school year in which the state assessments were administered to the results for the school year 2-4 years before, must equal or exceed the increase in the performance of all public school students in the state over the same period.

    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 measures of interim progress in the state accountability system or other performance targets that are set for the school year in question in at least reading (or English language arts) and mathematics and graduation rates and possibly other academic indicators, for the all students group. Additionally, nominated schools must have assessment participation rates of at least 95 percent using the most recent accountability results available, for the all students group. Finally, in order to meet all eligibility requirements, all nominated public schools must be certified by the state prior to September 2021 announcement of National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U. S. Secretary of Education.

    The Department invites the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) to nominate schools that meet the criteria for recognition. Non-profit, non-public schools interested in being nominated should contact CAPE directly at www.capenet.org/brs.html. In submitting nominated schools, CAPE must certify that the schools meet the minimum requirements established by the Department and describe any other criteria used to nominate the non-public schools.

    Performance Criteria for Non-Public Schools: Non-public schools nominated for the National Blue Ribbon Schools award must meet the following 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 reading and mathematics as measured by a nationally normed test or in the top 15 percent of its state as measured by a state test.
      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. The school configuration must include one or more of grades K-12. Schools located on the same campus (physical location and mailing address) must apply as an entire school (i.e. K-8; 6-12; K-12 school). Two (or more) schools located on separate campuses, must apply individually even if they have the same principal. A single school located on multiple campuses with one principal must apply as an entire school.
  2. The school has been in existence for five full years, that is, from at least September 2015 and grades participating in statewide assessments must have been part of the school for at least the three years prior to September 2019.
  3. The nominated school has not received the National Blue Ribbon Schools award in the past five years: 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, or 2020.
  4. 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.
  5. The nominated school should not have been identified by the state within the last two years as “persistently dangerous.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 2021 cohort of National Blue Ribbon Schools is as follows:

Date Due
September, 2020 The Secretary of Education sends a letter of invitation to the CSSOs and CAPE requesting nominations of eligible schools.
October, 2020 Conduct webinar/TA conference calls to review guidance and application with liaisons.
October 30, 2020 Pre-registrations of non-public schools are due.
December 31, 2020 Nomination processes and data for public schools being considered for nomination from CSSOs are due to the Department.
January 6, 2021 Hard copy of non-public school applications and assessment results are due to CAPE.
January 11-15, 2021 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.
February 3, 2021 Approved public school nominations are entered by states into online portal.
February 8, 2021 The Department invites public schools nominated by CSSOs to apply for recognition as National Blue Ribbon Schools.
February 19, 2021 CAPE selects non-public school nominations.
April 9, 2021 Completed public and non-public school applications are due to the Department.
April-June, 2021 Applications are reviewed for completeness, quality, and accuracy.
August, 2021 States certify that nominated public schools have met all eligibility requirements.
September, 2021 The Secretary of Education announces the 2021 National Blue Ribbon Schools (public and non-public).
November, 2021 Two representatives from each school, the principal and a teacher, 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 from 2013 to the current cohort of awarded 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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