Head of the Class

Schools Where the Numbers Add Up to Top Performance

By: Drew Lindsay

We asked researchers at the Education Week Research Center, to identify the area's top-performing high schools. Years ago real-estate agents and newspapers ranked schools based on SAT scores--then the only data available school-by-school. But the decade's push for more testing and analysis has produced better tools for measuring school performance.

The Research Center created a "performance index" for each area jurisdiction using multiple measures. In Maryland and Virginia, scores from the state's two chief tests--reading and math--each make up 25 percent of the index. Scores from four statewide subject tests--algebra, biology, and English I in both states, along with government in Maryland and history in Virginia--are weighted 10 percent each. Graduation rates make up the final 10 percent of the index.

In the District, reading and math scores account for 50 percent each of the performance index. DC does not administer districtwide tests in specific subjects, and it does not publish graduation rates.

The Research Center didn't use scores from the SATs or Advanced Placement exams. Because the percentage of a school's enrollment taking the tests is often small, they are not good measures of performance.

Who came out on top? We ranked schools only against others in their jurisdictions. Here we highlight 25 schools--ten in Maryland, ten in Virginia, five in DC--with the highest performance-index ratings. In Virginia, eight of the schools are in Fairfax County and one each in Arlington and Falls Church. Maryland's top performers are from Montgomery County except for Prince George's County's Eleanor Roosevelt.

The socioeconomic background of students plays the biggest role in our rankings. Seventeen of our top schools are among those with the fewest kids in poverty.

Four of the top schools--Thomas Jefferson, Banneker, School Without Walls, and Ellington--are magnet schools that enroll students through an admissions process. Two schools--Eleanor Roosevelt and Richard Montgomery--have magnet programs.

Numbers alone don't offer a comprehensive picture of a school's performance. Because the Research Center's index represents a snapshot of performance, our list doesn't include some schools that are doing good work.

Scores on state tests at J.E.B. Stuart High, near Seven Corners in Fairfax, have climbed 50 percent and more over the past five years. See more on Stuart and other schools like it in "Toward a More Perfect School" on page 104.

Maryland's Top Performers

State Achievement Tests

  State Achievement Tests
  At or Above Proficient (%) Passing (%)
High Schools Performance Rank Reading Math Biology Government Algebra English I Graduation Rate (%) Low-Income Students (%)
Churchill 1 95 91 88 95 81 82 96 2
Wootton 2 92 86 91 94 80 82 97 2
Whitman 3 91 84 92 90 63 81 98 2
Walter Johnson 4 83 81 87 90 64 74 95 4
Poolesville 5 88 73 81 88 60 66 96 4
Beth.-Chevy Chase 6 82 69 80 92 64 74 92 9
Damascus 7 82 60 71 80 68 60 92 4
Rich. Montgomery 8 81 57 77 82 46 69 93 12
Blake 9 80 59 75 82 44 52 90 8
Eleanor Roosevelt 10 83 51 61 72 75 57 90 13

Virginia's Top Performers

  State Achievement Tests: % at or Above Proficient
High Schools Performance Rank Reading Math Biology US and VA History Algebra I English Graduation Rate (%) Low-income Students (%)
Thomas Jefferson (Frx) 1 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 1
Langley (Frx) 2 98 93 95 94 92 98 98 1
George Mason (FCh) 3 98 89 92 92 93 96 95 14
W.T. Woodson (Frx) 4 98 90 93 89 87 99 94 5
Robinson (Frx) 5 98 88 94 90 87 98 95 6
Madison (Frx) tie for 6 98 89 94 89 89 98 91 5
West Springfield (Frx) tie for 6 98 88 92 89 90 93 99 8
Oakton (Frfx) 8 97 87 92 90 88 98 94 7
Lake Braddock (Frx) 9 98 87 91 85 90 98 95 9
Yorktown (Arl) 10 98 89 86 86 86 99 91 16

DC's Top Performers

Achievement Tests: % Proficient

  State Achievement Tests
High Schools Performance Rank Reading Math Low-Income Students (%)
Banneker 1 93 95 32
School Without Walls 2 89 94 9
Dunbar Pre-Engineering 3 57 91 42
Woodson Business and Finance 4 58 70 50
Ellington 5 56 50 17
Wootton's new humanities program graduated its second class of students in 2004.