Top-Performing Public High Schools Methodology

In the pandemic era, we recognize that developing rankings of area high schools presents several challenges, with limited availability of data being the largest obstacle. For example, Pennsylvania stopped releasing schools’ average SAT scores, a significant aspect of our rankings in previous years, and New Jersey canceled statewide assessment testing in both 2020 and 2021, meaning that we could not fairly assess academic performance in the Jersey suburbs at all. Acknowledging those limitations, we have nonetheless tried to maintain an unbiased approach to highlight schools in the five-county Philadelphia area that continued to deliver a high level of education during tough times.

To come up with a ranking of the top-performing city and suburban public high schools in the five-county Philadelphia region, we first collected the latest available data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, supplemented with data from the School District of Philadelphia, in the following areas:

  • Enrollment for grades 9–12
  • Four-year graduation rate
  • Percentage of graduates attending a 2- or 4-year college
  • Student-teacher ratio
  • Percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations on state assessment tests (Keystones) in math and science
  • Classroom teacher education level (i.e., whether the teachers have a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree)

We omitted highly specialized schools and schools reporting insufficient information, then separated the data into two subgroups: schools in Philadelphia only and schools in all the surrounding counties. Each group was analyzed independently by statistician George Recck, director of the Math Resource Center at Babson College in Massachusetts. Once the data was collected and regularized, we compared each high school’s data points to the overall average for the subgroup. We then applied a percentage weight to the standardized value for each high school to create an aggregate “score” for each district. The high schools were then ranked based on that statistical score.


Notes for selected categories:

  • Student-teacher ratio: We considered it more desirable to have a lower ratio than a higher one.
  • State assessments: Schools that reported no assessment data were eliminated from the analysis. In cases in which schools reported data in only one of the two assessment categories, we used the weighted average of the other category for those schools. In Philadelphia, fewer than one-third of schools reported data for the science assessment, so we placed less emphasis on that category for Philly schools.
  • Classroom teacher education level: This is a new category in our analysis. Schools with a greater percentage of teachers with master’s degrees scored higher in this category. This in part accounts for the increased number of charter schools on the Philadelphia list compared with previous years.