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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.

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). High schools must also meet criteria based on graduation rate.

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. All high schools are ranked based on the state’s most recently available graduation rate. High schools in the top 15 percent of this 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:

    2.	Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools

    1. School Subgroup Improvement. For each of the state’s subgroups, all schools are ranked based on the increase in the performance of that subgroup on state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index), comparing the most recent school year in which the state assessments were administered to the school year 2-4 years prior to that. Schools in the top 15 percent of each ranking for at least one of their sufficiently large subgroups 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. For each of the state’s subgroups, all high schools are ranked based on the state’s most recently available graduation rate for that subgroup. 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 most recent school year in which the state assessments were administered and the school year 2-4 years prior to that, must equal or exceed the increase over the same period in the performance of all public school students in the state.

    In addition to meeting the above student performance requirements, a nominated school must, in most cases, 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, these schools 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 goals for interim progress in the state accountability system or other performance targets that are set by the state for the school year in question in at least reading (or English language arts), mathematics, 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 school performance eligibility requirements, all nominated public schools must be certified by the state prior to September 2020 announcement of National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U. S. Secretary of Education.

    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.
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