Share on Pinterest

College Success Awards

Methodology for establishing award winning schools


The objective of the College Success Award is to recognize and celebrate high schools that are doing the best at preparing students to succeed in college. Award winners are determined by a methodology that evaluates school-level data on college preparation, college enrollment, and college performance.

States included

After a national data collection effort, GreatSchools collected sufficient data to calculate the award in nine states: Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, Arkansas, and Missouri.

Data included

Award winners are determined by calculating a school-level metric and applying a threshold to delineate schools receiving the award and those that are not. This metric is comprised of three components:

  1. The College Preparation component includes the percent of students from a 4 year cohort who graduate high school and the average performance and participation for the SAT or ACT.
  2. The College Enrollment component includes school-level metrics that vary by state. Some states report this data as ‘Percent Enrolled in College Immediately Following High School,’ others as ‘Percent enrolled in any institution of higher learning in the last 0-16 months,’ and ‘Graduating seniors pursuing either a 2-year or 4-year college/university.’
  3. The College Performance component is comprised of remediation and persistence metrics, which also vary in availability by state. The remediation metric is ‘Percent of students needing remediation for college’ and is sometimes disaggregated by subject. Persistence metric is ‘Percent enrolled in college and returned for second year.’

Data limitations

There are three principal limitations with the data:

  1. College enrollment/persistence data do not take into account institution quality, thus college preparation data is included as a proxy for quality.
  2. Data are not disaggregated by subgroup, so results may not be equally distributed across groups.
  3. Data are “point in time” data, not longitudinal data, so results will not necessarily isolate the value-add of the school from out-of-school factors influencing performance.


First, each of the inputs available for a particular school is standardized. To do this, the school’s position in the state-wide distribution for each metric is calculated as a percentile.

Some states mandate that a specific College Entrance exam be taken by all high school graduates. In these states, if data for multiple College Entrance exams is obtained, only the data for the mandated exam is used. In states that do not require a specific exam to be taken, and there is data for more than one College Entrance exam available, the data for the exam with the higher participation rates statewide is used. If participation rates are not available, the exam in which the school performed better is used.

Within each component, an average of the percentiles of the available metrics is calculated, resulting in a score in all three categories (College Preparation, College Enrollment, College Performance) for each school. This approach ensures that equal weight is given to theall three components in the final for calculating a school’s level metrics. For schools with no available data in one of the metrics, the average across the other metrics is taken. For example, if a school does not have graduation data, then the College Preparation component’s average percentile is based only on College Entrance Exam Performance and Participation data.

The last step in calculating the single school level metric is to average the scores in the three buckets. To limit the advantage of missing data, schools that do not have data in all three categories are considered ineligible for the award. To ensure that only schools that are performing well are identified, schools that perform below the 50th percentile and below the weighted average in a metric in their state are also ineligible. Once these ineligible schools are removed, the top 30% of all schools from each state that are left are the College Success Award winners.

A visual of the methodology

CSA methodology visual
1 The availability of College Enrollment metrics varies by state.