University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Is Your High School one of the “Best”?

In The View from the OEP on May 16, 2018 at 2:04 pm

US BadgeLast week, U.S. News & World Report released their annual “Best High Schools” rankings, and we want to clarify what the rankings mean, share some thoughts about what we like (and don’t) about the methodology, and compare the rankings to Arkansas’ ESSA scores for schools.

First, congratulations to those Arkansas high schools that made the list for 2018!  We made it easy for you to find the US News information for all Arkansas high schools here. Below are the US News Top 10 for Arkansas (we added the Free/ Reduced Lunch Rate) :

#1: Haas Hall Academy (does not participate in FRL program)

#2: eStem High School (30% FRL)

#3: LISA Academy North High (35% FRL)

#4: Prairie Grove High School (35% FRL)

#5: Bentonville High School (23% FRL) 

#6: Rogers High School (52% FRL)

#7: LISA Academy High (40% FRL) 

#8: Arkansas Arts Academy High (26% FRL) 

#9: Fayetteville High School (35% FRL) 

#10: Scranton High School (47% FRL)

These rankings always make the news, but here at the OEP, we want to make sure that you understand what the “best” title is based on. There are four steps used to identify high schools that are performing better than expected:

STEP 1 | Students exceeded expectations in their states.

STEP 2 | Underserved students performed better than the state average.

STEP 3 | Student graduation rates met a threshold of 80%.

STEP 4 | Students were prepared for college-level coursework.

Schools must pass the first step by performing better than expected based on their student population in order to continue in the ranking process.

Things we like about the rankings:

1. Performance on state exams factors in the economic background of the students served by the school.

Schools serving a lower percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged typically have higher scores than schools serving a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students, but the US News ranking takes that into account.

The figure below represents Arkansas high schools’ school-level Performance Index scores plotted against the school percentage of enrolled students participating in the Free/Reduced Lunch Program. You can see the relationship between Performance and the percentage of students who are identified as economically disadvantaged. Schools who do not participate in the Free/Reduced Lunch Program are assigned the average FRL participation rate for the state.

The red line represents the ‘typical performance’ of schools in Arkansas given the percentage of students in the school that participate in the FRL program.

Dark green markers indicate schools where students performed BELOW what is typical for schools with the same percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

Light blue markers represent schools where students performed AS expected.

Yellow markers represent schools where students performed BETTER than expected and are selected for initial consideration for a “best” high school.

US Best

On the upper left hand side of the figure above, you can see a yellow marker indicating NWA Classical Academy where 13% of the students participate in FRL with a performance index of 92.  On the far right hand side of the figure you can see Clinton High School represented by the yellow marker with a performance index of 71 and 100% of students participating in FRL. Clinton High School is one of many schools identified as 100% FRL due to the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).

Ninety- nine high schools were found to be performing above expectations, an increase of 8 school compared to last year. The schools with the highest performance indices (129 and 121) are Haas Hall Fayetteville and Bentonville. These schools are assigned the average FRL participation rate for the state as they do not participate in the Free/Reduced Lunch Program.

This year 8 more high schools performed above expectations!

2. Performance of historically underserved populations is considered.

Students who are black, Hispanic, and low-income traditionally score lower on state assessments than white, Asian, and/or economically advantaged students.  Only schools where these students outperformed the state average were selected for further consideration.

3. AP passing rates are considered as well as AP participation.

Under Arkansas’ ESSA plan, the number of students taking an AP class is rewarded, but there is no consideration to how well students perform on the AP tests.  This is particularly important because, unlike students in most other states, Arkansas students do not have to pay to take AP tests, so we can consider the passing rates a more reliable measure of how well the AP content is being taught.

Things we don’t like about the rankings:

1. The data are OLD

The data used by U.S. News are from the 2015-16 school year and are nearly two years old.  We hope that stakeholders will keep that in mind as they search for their school on the “Best” list.

2. Focus is just on College

Only ‘college ready’ indicators are considered.  We would like to see US News including more indices of career readiness, because not everyone wants to go to college and the ‘best’ high schools should meet the learning goals of all of their students.

3. Focus is on Proficiency, not Growth

Here at OEP, we are strong proponents of student-level growth models.  We understand that it is impossible to compare this type of student growth across states for now, because each state has a different assessment, but we feel it is important to point out that even though they consider the demographics of the students served by the school, Arkansas’ growth model provides better information about how well students are GROWING.

How do these US News rankings compare with Arkansas’ letter grades?

We wondered how the US News rankings compare to the recently released Arkansas grades for schools? It is important to note three major differences:

  • Arkansas’ scores and letter grades are based on 2016-17 data, while US News is based on data from 2015-16
  • Arkansas uses a student-level growth model in the calculation while US News does not.
  • Arkansas’ scores use a weighted performance measure that is different from US News:  While the weights are used at the lower levels, US News weights the highest performers at 1.5, while Arkansas uses a weight of 1.25

Below we provide the 2016-17 Arkansas ESSA information for the US News Top 10 high schools.  You can find this information for all Arkansas school here.  (Arkansas Achievement and Growth ranking is within 303 Arkansas high schools)

#1: Haas Hall Academy: Grade A, 1st in Achievement, 7th in Growth

#2: eStem High School: Grade A, 54th in Achievement, 19th in Growth

#3: LISA Academy North High: Grade A, 34th in Achievement, 2nd in Growth

#4: Prairie Grove High School: Grade B, 81st in Achievement, 76th in Growth

#5: Bentonville High School: Grade A, 16th in Achievement, 81st in Growth

#6: Rogers High School: Grade C, 127th in Achievement, 193rd in Growth

#7: LISA Academy High: Grade B, 110th in Achievement, 22nd in Growth

#8: Arkansas Arts Academy High: Grade A, 5th in Achievement, 9th in Growth

#9: Fayetteville High School: Grade B, 62nd in Achievement, 186th in Growth

#10: Scranton High School: Grade B, 100th in Achievement, 47th in Growth

Even though the data are from different years and use different criteria, almost every one of the US News high schools received a letter grade of A or B.  They vary in terms of achievement and growth, and you KNOW we love to focus on growth, but overall the indicators seem to be pointing in the same direction.  It will be interesting to see how the Arkansas and US News rankings line up for the 2016-17 school year.

Differences in methodology aside, the top 10 are some of the ‘Best’ high schools in Arkansas!



  1. A question actually, why are schools who do not participate in the Free/Reduced Lunch Program assigned the average FRL participation rate for the state? In my opinion, schools such as Haas Hall and Bentonville with extremely low #s of FRL students should be assigned the FRL of the district with the lowest # of FRL students while CEP districts should be assigned the FRL of the district with the highest # of FRL students.

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