“High performing” means that the achievement of the school’s students in the most recently completed school year places the school in the top 15 percent in the nation in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics as measured by a nationally normed test or in the top 15 percent of its state as measured by a state test. If a non-public school administers both state tests and nationally normed tests, the school must be in the top 15 percent in both.

Disaggregated results for student groups, including students from disadvantaged backgrounds, must be similar to the results for all students tested in the most recently completed school year; at a minimum, student subgroups must be at the 60th student percentile or higher on nationally standardized tests or state tests if administered. A student from a “disadvantaged background” may include economically disadvantaged students, that is students who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals, students with disabilities, students who are limited English proficient, migrant students, and/or students receiving services under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015.

For high schools, the graduation rate in the most recent class of graduates must be 95 percent or higher.

For schools using nationally standardized tests, the U.S. Department of Education has published tables of cut scores for each grade that place performance in the top 15 percent of schools in the nation. You can download the cut scores (PDF) here. (Detailed procedures for determining eligibility based on test scores for national tests are provided below.)  

Schools using state standardized tests will have to find out from their state education department whether their scores place them in the top 15 percent of schools in the state for each test (see State Contacts List).

Whether a school uses national or state tests or both, the top 15 percent criterion must be met in both reading and math scores for the most recently completed school year for ALL grades three and higher in which the tests were administered in the school.

To be eligible, schools must enroll a minimum of 100 students and must have assessment data for at least 10 students in each tested grade for both reading and math for grades 3 and higher.

Test results for grades three and higher during the most recently completed school year (in this case, the 2020-2021 school year) must be reported in Part VIII of the application. (Note: It is no longer necessary to report five years of test results.) If a school administered tests more than once during the 2020-2021 school year, the most recent test results should be used to determine eligibility.

Only not-for-profit schools are eligible to apply.

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