GreatSchools/BusinessWeek Top-Performing Schools 2009

We've crunched the numbers to find top schools in each state for the GreatSchools/BusinessWeek Top-Performing Schools list.

GreatSchools Blog

By Lisa Rosenthal

What Makes a Great School?
First and foremost, it has a learning environment where the focus is on student achievement and the proof is in the pudding — high test scores. It's a school where the emphasis is on continuous improvement — where students are always striving to do better.
Parent involvement and parent satisfaction are key components, too; students perform better when their parents care about them and the school they attend. Parents can help their children succeed by modeling the behaviors and skills they want their children to develop. Parents can help their school by advocating for their children's best interests and participating in the school community.
Based on these criteria, we've crunched the numbers to find top high schools in each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia in the following categories: Top-Performing School; Top-Performing Closing-the-Achievement-Gap School; Most Improved.
No list can ever be completely definitive. It can't capture other qualities we also consider important in a great school — a school culture that values honesty, kindness to others and involvement in one's community, and encourages students to be curious and engages them in activities that teach critical thinking skills.
There are other schools in each of the states that are great schools, too, even if they didn't make the GreatSchools/BusinessWeek Top-Performing Schools list. The schools we have chosen in each of our categories exemplify these qualities we consider key to making a great school: top academic performance, academic improvement and parent involvement.
If you are searching for a school in your community, these top schools can be your benchmarks — check out their school profiles and parent reviews on GreatSchools — How do they compare to the schools you are looking at?
Our Methodology
For each state and the District of Columbia, we chose one school in each of our categories. Here's how we came up with our list:
Top-Performing Schools
We looked at the most recent test scores available for reading, math and science. In some cases, that's 2007-2008 and in others it's 2006-2007. Reading and math were weighted twice as much as science. Where available, we used the percentage of students scoring at the advanced level. In states where advanced levels were not reported, we used the percentage of students scoring at the "proficient or above" level.
Enrollment — To be considered, a school had to have at least half of the median enrollment for high schools in its state, or at least 100 students. For some states, the median enrollment is around 100, so for those a cut-off of 100 is used rather than half of the median.
Top-Performing Closing-the-Achievement-Gap Schools
The top third of schools having the highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students were considered for this award. States have different labels for low-income: Some states call it "students participating in free or reduced-price lunch program," some call it "students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch" and others call it "economically disadvantaged" or "low-income students." For our purposes, we treated all these labels as the same category. The test scores for these schools were analyzed in the same way as for the top-performing schools above.
Most Improved Schools
These schools showed the greatest improvement in test scores when comparing scores from the most recent year available to the year before. We compared grade-level improvement rather than student group improvement. For example, we compared 10th-grade scores for this year to 10th- grade scores last year, as opposed to comparing student scores in 10th grade and then the same group of students and their scores for 11th grade. It's important to note that the improvement could be a result of the differences in the two sets of students rather than the success of the instruction. These schools also had to meet our minimum enrollment as outlined above for Top Performing Schools.
An added note: For some states, such as New Hampshire and Georgia, there wasn't sufficient data available to choose a school in each of our categories. For these states, we have chosen top schools depending on the data available.
Updated March 2009


Lisa Rosenthal, the former managing editor of GreatSchools, is an independent communications consultant in the Bay Area.

Comments from readers

"Female. 36 yeras old. Professional worker. Need to have informations about online schools. Thanks"
"to add my two cents - i agree that it's misleading to call this an article about 'top performing schools' when it only lists a very small number of schools. including a mish-mash of great, improved, parents' choice and then not differentiating among them is not useful. break them out or distinguish them somehow, but don't make people sift through them to figure it out. the links aren't very helpful either - once i plugged in top 5 for CA, i kept going back there no matter what link i chose. and as for the link to businessweek, i expected it to reference a specific article - instead, i only went to the home page for the online magazine. either back up the reference, explain it prominently or don't include it."
"What's the point in highlighting only the 5 best high schools in a state as big as California? I don't live anywhere near these schools, no chance transferring to them. So, how is this information supposed to be helpful to the rest of us whose kids don't go to those schools? Make us feel bad, anxious? Why not talk about what we can do as parents to make the school in our own neighborhood better. I don't want to have my kids commuting (and polluting) to some far away school."
"You had rated Stuyvesant High School as a top-performing school in New York, and your methodology was to look at enrolment and test scores. However, entry into Stuyvesant is through a competitive test; therefore the students represent the top tier in academics. It is to be expected that they would indeed have excellent test scores. In addition, parents of Stuyvesant students are generally those that place a high value on education, and monitor their children accordingly. I think these students would have done well anywhere they went. So your rating was not so much of the school’s performance as of the students’ performance. It would be very interesting to see what Stuyvesant could do if it were given a regular bunch of kids to work with – not the set of high-performing kids that it gets to start with. My son went to Stuyvesant and I was not impressed with the school. But the students were indeed outstanding. "
"Your methodology is flawed. There is nothing scientific about the collection of data. 'Top Schools' is a misleading title. I could go on and on and on. I have lost respect for your website and the validity of the data reported herein because of this - I don't even know what to call it, except for a publicity seeking stunt. "