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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 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.