Vermillion Middle School is one of the best middle schools in South Dakota, according to U.S. News and World Report.
In its analysis of 123,501 pre-k, elementary and middle schools across the United States, U.S. News found that only three other middle schools in South Dakota can top the staff and teachers at Vermillion Middle School in providing a quality education.
It gives Vermillion Middle School an overall score of 97.92/100. South Dakota middle schools that ranked higher than Vermillion’s are Gettysburg Middle School, Timber Lake Middle School and Southwest Middle School in Rapid City. The Elk Point-Jefferson Middle School received a fifth-place ranking.
“Today, for the first time, U.S. News published rankings of public elementary and middle schools,” U.S. News & World Report, which calls itself the ‘global authority in education rankings,’ stated on its website Tuesday, Oct. 12. “Like our annual Best High Schools rankings, we hope these statistical assessments are a useful resource for parents in conjunction with the accompanying data we publish on school characteristics.”
All public schools were ranked for which source data and history allowed. In other words, whether a school was ranked or unranked was independent of academic quality. About 81% of public schools with elementary and middle school grades received a ranking.
U.S. News also notes on its website that the data it uses is based on the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years. It states that “the student population of Vermillion Middle School is 310, and the school serves (grades) 6-8. At Vermillion Middle School, 60% of students scored at or above the proficient level for math, and 76% scored at or above that level for reading.
“The school’s minority student enrollment is 26%. The student-teacher ratio is 15:1, which is worse than that of the district. The student population is made up of 48% female students and 52% male students. The school enrolls 29% economically-disadvantaged students. There are 21 equivalent full-time teachers and 1 full-time school counselor,” according to the U.S. News website.
Superintendent Damon Alvey had just learned of Vermillion Middle School’s high ranking Tuesday afternoon, he said, during a phone conversation with the Vermillion Plain Talk. The news first appeared on the Sioux Falls Argus Leader website Tuesday morning and was spread among school staff in an email.
“We’re super proud of our staff and our kids. Obviously, their hard work and dedication paid off,” Alvey told the Plain Talk Tuesday. “Any time you can get some accolades for the things you’re doing well, it’s awfully rewarding for everybody involved.”
At Vermillion Middle School 60% of students scored at or above the proficient level for math, and 76% scored at or above that level for reading. U.S. News notes that the Vermillion Middle School’s math proficiency was calculated from school proficiency on state mathematics assessments and its reading proficiency was calculated from school proficiency on reading/language art assessments. Both the math and reading assessment are sourced by U.S. Department of Education’s EdFacts initiative.
Compared with the district, the school did better in math and better in reading, according to this metric. U.S. News notes that in Vermillion School District 13-1, 66% of students tested at or above the proficient level for reading, and 54% tested at or above that level for math.
“Vermillion Middle School did better in math and better in reading in this metric compared with students across the state,” the website states. “In South Dakota, 50% of students tested at or above the proficient level for reading, and 44% tested at or above that level for math.”
Including ranked and unranked schools, U.S. News now lists 118,332 public and private grade schools in its directory; among which U.S. News ranked 79,941 unique public grade schools in 2021. These include 47,325 schools newly ranked as elementary schools and 23,255 as middle schools – some of which are in both rankings.
Unlike the high school rankings, there are no national rankings of elementary and middle schools. There are overall state rankings and state rankings broken out by school district. U.S. News also published statewide rankings specific to charter schools and magnet schools.
Scoring was almost entirely rooted in students’ performance on mathematics and reading/language arts state assessments. Each state administers these assessments to determine whether learning in core subjects is achieved and to review how well schools are educating their students – including but not limited to children from low-income households and children from historically underserved ethnicities.
The U.S. Department of Education-sourced data was from the 2018-2019 academic year and preceded the COVID-19 pandemic's impact.
“As a note, we hope readers benefit from the sophistication of our analysis,” U.S. News states on its website. “The U.S. News rankings team produced multivariate regressions that assessed student performance in the context of demographics and their states. We believe that is more useful than simply looking at test results to evaluate schools, because this process resembles to a certain extent how education administrators and researchers consider school performance.
“But our rankings do provide considerable weights for scores themselves, too, because we believe parents value environments where most children arrive prepared to learn and teachers can provide a culture of enrichment,” the self-described “global authority in education rankings” states on its website. “By focusing on academics, we hope these rankings provide parents insight into a key element of school quality. They can use the rankings, our data and word-of-mouth research to learn about different schools’ environments, administration and student services to best find schools that may be a good fit for their children.”
According to the U.S. News and World Report website, state assessment data determines how most elementary and middle schools rank in their first K-8 rankings.
The website states:
Great elementary and middle schools educate their students from all socioeconomic backgrounds with the goal of setting them up for success. In turn, their students develop the core competencies in state curricula to best prepare them for high school.
U.S. News’ inaugural rankings of public elementary schools and middle schools can help you determine the best schools in the area for your children.
The rankings use the same methodology for all included grade levels. For each state, schools were assessed on their shares of students who were proficient or above proficient in their mathematics and reading/language arts state assessments. Half the formula was the results themselves; the other half was the results in the context of socioeconomic demographics. In other words, the top-ranked schools are all high achieving and have succeeded at educating all their students.
There is no national ranking – but there are distinct elementary and middle school rankings calculated at the state and district levels, as well as state rankings specific to charter and magnet schools.
U.S. News summed each schools’ standardized scores on the four ranking indicators. From these, a single zero to 100 overall score was computed for each school, depicting how well each school ranked within their state on a percentile basis. For example, a school with a score of 55.00 performed in the 55th percentile among all schools in its ranking, meaning 45% of the schools performed better and 55% of the schools didn’t perform as well as that school.
Ranks were assigned in descending order of overall scores. Schools placing in the top 30% (scores of at least 70.00) were flagged as high achieving in our display. Schools below the 25th percentile have their scores concealed and display the entire bottom quartile's ranking range. Those unranked were all public schools that served special subgroups, had fewer than 20 students enrolled in the federal government dataset, had fewer than 30 test-takers in reading/language arts and math, or for which usable state assessment data could not be obtained. This means all private kindergarten through 12th grade schools on our website are unranked.
U.S. News’ K-12 directory lists 118,332 schools including 95,882 public schools and 22,450 private schools. Among the 80,160 public schools with elementary and/or middle school grades, 65,187 (81%) were ranked in either the elementary or middle schools ranking. These include 5,393 ranked in both.
In total, 47,325 elementary schools were ranked and 23,255 middle schools were ranked. When combined with the 17,857 public high schools U.S. News ranked earlier in 2021, U.S. News has assigned 88,437 state ranks across its elementary, middle and high schools rankings to 79,941 unique public schools.
Each state gives standardized tests measuring student proficiency in subjects related to mathematics and reading/language arts. The states and localities look closely at student performance on these tests – most often while also accounting for student backgrounds – to determine whether learning in core subjects is achieved and to review how well schools are educating their students. The elementary and middle school rankings are based almost exclusively on state assessments, with student-teacher ratios applied to break ties in the overall score.
Mathematics and Reading Proficiency (50%)
The math proficiency and reading proficiency indicators are separate measures of students’ achievements on these assessments. Although for each exam students in most states are scored on a scale of 4 or more different scores, state education agencies assign a threshold score on their exams (e.g., 3 out of 4) that classifies the test-takers as proficient or not proficient in the subject area. The math and reading proficiency indicators are separate indicators (weighted 25% for each subject) that equal the percentage of each school’s test-takers who were at least proficient in their subject areas.
Schools U.S. News categorized as being exclusively elementary or middle school were assessed on all their test-takers. Most of these elementary schools were pre-K through fifth grade or pre-K through sixth grade, while most of these middle schools had sixth through eighth or seventh and eighth grades.
Schools with wider grade spans – such as those in both rankings or with seventh grade and higher – were assessed only on tests taken in third through fifth grades for elementary and sixth through eighth for middle, with weighting by number of test-takers per grade. While this breakout may not comport with how every large school categorizes its students, U.S. News believed this is a very common distinction and had the benefit of dividing grades equally.
Mathematics and Reading Performance (50%)
These indicators assess math and reading results on state assessments and were weighted 25% for each subject. They accounted for how students’ subject proficiencies compared with U.S. News’ modeled expectations.
Based on U.S. News’ analysis, in every state, low-income students – defined as those eligible for free and reduced-price lunch – tend to score lower than other students on state assessments, even when controlling for other factors. The same is true of students from historically underserved ethnicities – namely Latinos/Hispanics, Blacks/African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and those of two or more races – although economics typically had greater explanatory power than ethnicity.
U.S. News predicted each school’s mathematics and reading proficiencies using statewide, subject-specific multivariate regressions. To make predictions, these statistical models examined the extent to which schools whose students had similar socioeconomic profiles achieved proficiency in mathematics and reading. The greater an individual school’s actual value exceeds the U.S. News’ predicted value up to a limit, the better it performed on the ranking factor. Likewise, the more distant a school’s actual value was below its predicted value down to a limit, the worse it performed on the ranking factor.
For the models, U.S. News used the percentages proficient in each subject as its dependent variables, and the following two independent variables: the percentage of students who received free or reduced-price lunch, and the composite percentage who were among one of the underserved ethnicity groups. U.S. News chose to combine the different ethnicity groups in part to be more applicable for schools and states with mostly white and/or Asian student populations, or those that had very low representation of a single minority group.
Out of fairness, U.S. News gave more credit to schools if they overachieved against higher actual baselines. For example, a Massachusetts school whose predicted mathematics proficiency was 75% and actual proficiency was 85% scored better on this ranking indicator than a Massachusetts school whose predicted proficiency was 50% and actual proficiency was 60%, even though both schools overachieved by 10 percentage points. This was done to give schools more credit for overachieving against high expectations.
Using similar logic, U.S. News also capped residuals – or the difference between the actual and predicted proficiencies – any school could achieve to a maximum of 10 percentage points and a minimum of -10 percentage points. We also capped the highest predicted proficiency for each subject at 90% because no school should be expected to have more than 90% of its students proficient in reading or mathematics. In tandem, this means a school with 100% of its students proficient in math and reading will always be ranked as the No. 1 school (pending the student-teacher ratio tiebreaker), because all its students achieved the highest possible scores and had no more room to exceed their predicted performances.
For schools that performed identically on both state assessment indicators, the school with higher overall proficiencies broke the tie. For cases where proficiencies were equal, a second tiebreaker was whichever school had the lower pupil to full-time-equivalent teacher ratio. Schools that still tied after this second tiebreaker are tied in the rankings.
School District Rankings
U.S. News also ranked within school districts. Each school district with three or more ranked elementary or middle and at least two schools in the top 75% of the overall elementary or middle school rank has a No. 1 ranked school for that district, and so forth. A school's rank in its district is based entirely on its state rank. For example, if the highest-ranked elementary school in a school district is No. 30 in its state, then that school is ranked No. 1 in its district; if the second highest-ranked school in that same district is No. 250 statewide, then that school is ranked No. 2 in its district.
Magnet and Charter Rankings
These assess public schools statewide that were designated as one of the nation’s 6,018 K-8 charter schools or 2,641 K-8 magnet schools, or both. Like the school district rankings, schools’ rank order within each state’s charter school and magnet school rankings for elementary schools and middle schools equals their order in the overall state ranking. Not all states had enough magnet or charter schools to produce these rankings.
K-8 rankings are based on entirely publicly available data from the U.S. Department of Education websites. U.S. News does not survey elementary or secondary schools for any of its rankings. For updating directory information such as school name and contact information, schools should coordinate to ensure that the U.S. government datasets are accurate for future releases.
The universe of 88,627 public schools for U.S. News’ rankings and directory are those listed as being active in the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD) for 2019-2020. This was also used for organizing schools in district, magnet and charter rankings. The majority of data in our directory – including school and district names, grades taught, contact information, and enrollment are from CCD. The 2019-2020 CCD file is also the source for the directory’s district-level aggregated data, and for 1,554 public pre-K and pre-K through kindergarten schools that are not ranked but listed in our directory.
The directory’s 22,450 private pre-K, elementary, middle and high schools were sourced from the U.S. Department of Education’s 2017-2018 Private School Survey Universe, at the time of this publication.
District-level finance data for the directory was sourced by CCD but pertains to the most recently available 2017-2018 cohort. A small amount of additional public schools’ directory data was sourced from the Department of Education’s 2017-2018 Civil Rights Data Collection.
The state assessment data used in the ranking indicators was sourced from the 2018-2019 school year's achievement results for state assessments in mathematics and reading from the U.S. Department of Education’s EdFacts initiative. These include the numbers of test-takers for each subject by grade, the proportions of test-takers proficient in each subject area, and the economic and ethnic profiles of test-takers.
Notes on the Assessment Data
Each state administers its own exam with different standards of proficiency. In many states, the top-ranked schools will have 100% of their students testing proficient, while in states like New York and Maryland, the top-performing schools have much lower proportions of proficient students. We assume this is attributable to the differences among states’ exams and not the students or the teaching; therefore, schools’ performance across states are not comparable.
In addition to state assessments, our Best High Schools rankings released earlier this year also credited schools for college-level exams and graduation rates. Of course, neither are applicable for grades K-8. Consequently, schools with grades up to 12th that are also ranked in the elementary and middle schools rankings can be ranked very differently between the rankings because of the different approaches that result from applicability of data. Likewise, schools with wide grade spans can rank differently in the elementary schools rankings compared with the middle schools rankings based on differences in results among grade-level cohorts. Also, the greater quantity of elementary schools than middle schools means schools ranked in both will often (although not always) have a larger number rank in their elementary school ranking than middle school ranking because of its larger universe.
For West Virginia schools, only mathematics data was available and used in the rankings. Vermont schools had no EdFacts data available, resulting in all its elementary and middle schools being unranked.
Although percentages proficient were most often sourced in a zero to 100 integer format, for schools with smaller test-taking cohorts, U.S. News’ source data may only have included proficiency ranges. In such cases, U.S. News took the midpoint and rounded down, so that 95-100 would be treated as 97% proficient in the ranking. The broadest range used for analysis was 10%. A 10% range indicated there were at least 31 test takers in the grade or school-level cohort.
Because the state assessment data used in the rankings calculations is from 2018-2019, it predates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on test-taking.
Notes on Categorizing Elementary vs. Middle Schools
The CCD database doesn't officially state whether a nonsecondary school is an elementary or middle school, and many schools with wide grade spans may not make these distinctions altogether. The grade span information used to determine which public schools U.S. News categorized on our website as being elementary schools, middle schools, both or neither was from the older 2018-2019 CCD dataset to align with the state assessment data from 2018-2019.
Every ranked elementary school appears in the U.S. News elementary school directory search, and every ranked middle school appears in the middle school search. In very rare cases where there was a clear conflict between 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 datasets – such as a school with 2018-2019 assessment data only for third through fifth grades but listed in 2019-2020 CCD as only having fifth through eighth grades – U.S. News deferred to the 2019-2020 data, resulting in that school only appearing in the middle school search and not being ranked.