By Sally Absher

The U.S. News and World Report released the 2016 U.S. News Best High Schools ranking and four top performing Knox County High Schools made the list.

L&N STEM Academy—with a College Readiness Index (CRI) value of 61.9—ranked number 6 state-wide and number 341 nationally, earning a gold medal. (An explanation of the methodology used, including CRI and medal designation, is provided below)

Earning silver medals were: Farragut High School, ranked number 13 state-wide and number 1483 nationally; Hardin Valley Academy, ranked number 18 state-wide and number 1744 nationally; and Bearden High School, ranked number 23 state-wide and number 2066 nationally.

A total of 27 Tennessee schools received medals: six were awarded gold medals and 21 earned silver medals.

Delving into the article (available at, several interesting facts emerge. As noted above, Bearden High School was ranked the #23 high school in the state. But last fall Bearden learned that their TVAAS ranking +dropped from a perfect “5” to the lowest possible score, a “1.”

This caused undue stress to teachers and students alike, and resulted in the September 2015 resignation of several highly regarded and respected BHS teachers. When will we stop using the flawed TVAAS evaluation model?

Also interestingly, at #23, Bearden comes in right behind Maryville High School (#22) and ahead of Alcoa (recognized nationally but unranked) and Oak Ridge, which didn’t even make the Recognized Nationally list this year. Maryville, Alcoa, and Oak Ridge are often held up as districts where the taxpayers care enough to adequately fund the schools. Apparently money only buys so much.

How were the rankings determined? U.S. News & World Report teamed with North Carolina-based RTI International, a global nonprofit social science research firm (that sounds scary) to produce the 2016 Best High Schools rankings.

The U.S. News comprehensive rankings methodology is based on 2 key principles—that a great high school must serve all of its students, not just those who are college bound, well; and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show it is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.

U.S. News reports a four-step process was used to determine the 2016 Best High Schools.

Step 1 determined whether each school’s students are performing better than statistically expected for students in that state (based on math and reading results for all students on the state’s high school proficiency tests). The percentage of economically disadvantage students was factored in to identify schools performing much better than statistical expectations.

Step 2 assessed whether the disadvantaged students  were outperforming disadvantaged students in the state, again selecting those schools performing better than the state average.

Step 3 (new for 2016) high schools that make it past the first two steps of the methodology were required to meet or exceed a national standard high school graduation rate to be considered top-performing schools and to be ranked at a national level. The graduation threshold was set at 68 percent, based on the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act. The national average graduation rate was 82 percent in 2013-2014.

Step 4 judged schools nationally on college readiness performance using Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) test data as the benchmark for success. The College Readiness Index was computed based on the school’s AP or IB participation rate – the number of 12th grade students in the 2013-2014 academic year who took at least one AP or IB test before or during senior year divided by the number of 12th graders, and how well the students did on the tests.

The maximum CRI value is 100, meaning every 12th grade student took and passed at least one AP or IB test before or during senior year. Only schools with CRI values above 20.17 – the statistical midpoint – received gold or silver medals.

Gold Medals were awarded to schools with the highest CRI values, numerically ranked from 1 to 500. Silver medals were high schools ranked from 501 to 2,673. Bronze medals were awarded to an additional 3,545 high schools that passed the first three steps.