Skip Program Navigation
National Blue Ribbon Schools Program

Funding Status
   Current Section  FAQs
Performance
 Office of Communications and Outreach Home
Frequently Asked Questions


How do schools become National Blue Ribbon Schools?

Both public and non-public schools are eligible for the National Blue Ribbon Schools award based on school performance. Schools may be nominated for the award only once within a five-year period.

Public schools are nominated by their Chief State School Officer (CSSO). All states, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), are invited to apply. The U.S. Department of Education determines the number of nominations per state [PDF, 20K] based on the number of K-12 students and schools in each state.

One-third of the public schools nominated by each state must serve student populations with high percentages of students are from disadvantaged backgrounds (typically at least 40%).

Once schools are nominated by their CSSO, they are invited by the Department to apply for the award. The current National Blue Ribbon Schools Program application can be found at: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/nclbbrs/applicant.html.

Eligibility for Public Schools: The Department invites Chief State School Officers (CSSOs) for all states and the District of Columbia, the territories, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) to nominate schools for recognition as National Blue Ribbon Schools. In submitting nominated schools, the CSSO of each state and these entities must certify that the nominated schools meet the minimum requirements established by the Department for nomination. As described below, states and nominating entities must rely on their accountability and assessment systems to identify schools for submission to the Secretary.

At least one-third of the public schools nominated by each state must be schools with a high percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. What constitutes "disadvantaged backgrounds" is defined by the CSSO of each state. The definition may include economically disadvantaged students, that is, students who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals; students with disabilities; students who are English language learners; 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. "High percentage" means at least 40 percent unless a state has found that this threshold precludes identifying a sufficient number of such schools. Such a state may propose to use a percentage lower than 40 percent as long as the proposed percentage is no lower than the state's overall (average) percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds as defined by the state.

Each state's nomination criteria must pertain equally to all public schools nominated by the state. The Department also recommends that nominated schools reasonably reflect the demographic and geographic diversity of the state's public schools.

Performance Award Criteria for Public Schools: In order to be eligible for nomination, a school must meet several criteria based on the performance of its students on state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics or a composite of performance on these assessments with other measures of student performance (e.g., student growth on state assessments, performance on state assessments in other subjects, graduation rates, or other indicators in the state's accountability system). High schools must also meet criteria based on graduation rate.

A school may be nominated in either of two performance award categories: Exemplary High Performing and Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing. The student performance criteria that a school must meet in order to be nominated in each of these two categories are described below.

  1. Exemplary High Performing Schools. "High performing" is defined by the CSSO of each state, but at a minimum means that the school meets the performance criteria summarized in the following table:

    Criterion Threshold Measure for Ranking Schools
    Option 1 Option 2 Option 3
    1a. Whole School Performance Top 15% within the State Reading\ELA and Math Performance Separately Reading\ELA and Math Performance Combined Composite Score = Reading\ELA + Math + other measures
    1b. School Subgroup Performance Top 40% within the State Reading\ELA and Math Performance Separately Reading\ELA and Math Performance Combined Composite Score = Reading\ELA + Math + other measures
    1c. High School Graduation Rate Top 15% within the State Most recent high school graduation rate available
     
    1. 1a. — Whole School Performance. All schools are ranked [   1   ] based on the performance of all students in the school on the most recently administered state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics. [   2   ] The state may rank schools on these two subjects separately or rank schools on the two subjects combined (e.g., sum or average). The state may also combine performance on these assessments with other measures of student performance (e.g., student growth on state assessments, performance on state assessments in other subjects, graduation rates, or other indicators in the state's accountability system) and rank the schools on the resulting composite score/index. Schools in the top 15 percent of each ranking for reading/ELA and mathematics (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index) meet the threshold for this criterion.
    2. 1b. — School Subgroup Performance. For each of the state's subgroups,[   3   ] all schools are ranked based on the performance of the students in that subgroup on the most recently administered state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index). Schools in the top 40 percent of each ranking for each of their sufficiently large subgroups [   4   ] meet the threshold for this criterion.
    3. 1c. — High School Graduation Rate. All high schools are ranked based on the state's most recently available graduation rate. High schools in the top 15 percent of this ranking meet the threshold for this criterion.

  2. Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools: "Achievement gap closing" is defined by the CSSO of each state, but at a minimum means that the school meets the performance criteria summarized in the following table

    Criteria Threshold Measure for Ranking Schools
    Option 1 Option 2 Option 3
    2a. School Subgroup Improvement Top 15% within the State Reading\ELA and Math Improvement Separately Reading\ELA and Math Improvement Combined Composite Score = Reading\ELA + Math + other measures Improvement
    2b. School Subgroup Performance Top 40% within the State Reading\ELA and Math Performance Separately Reading\ELA and Math Performance Combined Composite Score = Reading\ELA + Math + other measures
    2c. High School Subgroup Graduation Rate Top 40% within the State Most recent high school graduation rate available
    2d. Whole School Improvement Equals or Exceeds Whole State Improvement Reading\ELA and Math Improvement Separately Reading\ELA and Math Improvement Combined Composite Score = Reading\ELA + Math + other measures Improvement
     
    1. 2a. — School Subgroup Improvement. For each of the state's subgroups, all schools are ranked based on the increase in the performance of that subgroup on state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index), comparing the most recent school year in which the state assessments were administered to the school year 2-4 years prior to that. Schools in the top 15 percent of each ranking for at least one of their sufficiently large subgroups meet the threshold for this criterion.
    2. 2b. — School Subgroup Performance. For each of the state's subgroups, all schools are ranked based on the performance of the students in that subgroup on the most recently administered state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index). Schools in the top 40 percent of each ranking for each of their sufficiently large subgroups meet the threshold for this criterion.
    3. 2c. — High School Subgroup Graduation Rate. For each of the state's subgroups, all high schools are ranked based on the state's most recently available graduation rate for that subgroup. High schools in the top 40 percent of this ranking for each of their sufficiently large subgroups meet the threshold for this criterion.
    4. 2d. — Whole School Improvement. In order for a school to meet the threshold for this criterion, the increase in the performance of all students in the school on state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics (separately, combined, or as part of a composite score/index), comparing the most recent school year in which the state assessments were administered and the school year 2-4 years prior to that, must equal or exceed the increase over the same period in the performance of all public school students in the state.

In addition to meeting the above performance criteria, a nominated school must have at least 100 students enrolled and have assessment data for at least 10 students in each tested grade for both reading (or English language arts) and mathematics. States with a large percentage of schools with fewer than 100 students enrolled may include up to a similar percentage of these schools in their nominations. However, each school must have assessment data for at least 10 students in each tested grade for both reading (or English language arts) and mathematics.

All nominated public schools must meet the state's measures of interim progress in the state accountability system or other performance targets that are set for the school year in question in at least reading (or English language arts) and mathematics and graduation rates and possibly other academic indicators, for the all students group. Additionally, nominated schools must have assessment participation rates of at least 95 percent using the most recent accountability results available, for the all students group. Finally, in order to meet all eligibility requirements, all nominated public schools must be certified by the state prior to September 2020 announcement of National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U. S. Secretary of Education.

Eligibility for Non-Public Schools: The Department invites the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) to nominate schools that meet the criteria for recognition. Non-profit, non-public schools interested in being nominated should contact CAPE directly at www.capenet.org/brs.html. In submitting nominated schools, CAPE must certify that the schools meet the minimum requirements established by the Department and describe any other criteria used to nominate the non-public schools.

Performance Criteria for Non-Public Schools: Non-public schools nominated for the National Blue Ribbon Schools award must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  1. Exemplary High Performing Schools. "High performing" means:

    1. That the achievement of the school's students in the most recent year tested 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.
    2. Disaggregated results for student groups, including students from disadvantaged backgrounds, must be similar to the results for all students tested.
    3. The graduation rate for non-public high schools must be 95% or higher in the most recent year.


Are there other requirements to becoming a National Blue Ribbon School?

  1. Yes; the school configuration must include one or more of grades K through12. Schools on the same campus (same address) with one principal, even a K-12 school, must apply as an entire school.
  2. The school should have been in existence for five full years, that is, from at least September 2014 and tested grades must have been part of the school for at least the past three years.
  3. The nominated school should not have received the National Blue Ribbon Schools award in the past five years: 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, or 2019.
  4. The nominated school has no history of testing irregularities, nor have charges of irregularities been brought against the school at the time of nomination. If irregularities are later discovered and proven by the state, the U.S. Department of Education reserves the right to disqualify a school's application and/or rescind a school's award.
  5. The nominated school should not have been identified by the state within the last two years as "persistently dangerous."
  6. The nominated school or district should not be refusing Office of Civil Rights (OCR) access to information necessary to investigate a civil rights complaint or to conduct a district wide compliance review.
  7. The OCR should not have issued a violation letter of findings to the school district concluding that the nominated school or the district as a whole has violated one or more of the civil rights statutes. A violation letter of findings will not be considered outstanding if OCR has accepted a corrective action plan from the district to remedy the violation.
  8. The U.S. Department of Justice should not have a pending suit alleging that the nominated school or the school district as a whole has violated one or more of the civil rights statutes or the Constitution's equal protection clause.
  9. There should be no findings of violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in a U.S. Department of Education monitoring report that apply to the school or school district in question; or if there are such findings, the state or district has corrected, or agreed to correct, the findings.

Once my school is nominated, what is the process and timeline for learning if we will be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School?

Following the receipt of school nominations from States, the Department invites nominated schools to apply for the award. After schools submit their applications for recognition, they are screened for completeness, quality, accuracy, and eligibility issues. Schools are provided with feedback and provided an opportunity to modify and improve their application before final submission.

Once reviews are completed, public schools must be certified by state CSSOs based on the school's most current performance on state assessments in order to receive the National Blue Ribbon Schools award. Because state assessment results may not be available and announced until late summer, the Department usually announces the new National Blue Ribbon Schools in September of the year after a school's initial nomination. The recognition ceremony takes place in mid-fall. The entire process, from initial nomination to receiving the award, takes about a year.

The timeline for the 2020 cohort of National Blue Ribbon Schools is as follows:

Date Due
September, 2019 The Secretary of Education sends a letter of invitation to the CSSOs and CAPE requesting nominations of eligible schools.
October, 2019 Conduct webinar/TA conference calls to review guidance and application with liaisons.
December 19, 2019 Hard copies of non-public school applications are due to CAPE.
December 31, 2019 Nomination processes and data for public schools being considered for nomination from CSSOs and interested non-public schools from CAPE are due to the Department.
January 13-14, 2020 Nomination processes and data for public schools being considered for nomination are reviewed by ED and a NBRS Assessment Panel for alignment with the general eligibility criteria of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program.
January 29, 2020 CAPE selects non-public school nominations.
February 3, 2020 Approved public school nominations are entered by states into online portal.
February 6, 2020 The Department invites public schools nominated by CSSOs to apply for recognition as National Blue Ribbon Schools.
April 6, 2020 Completed public and non-public school applications are due to the Department.
April-June, 2020 Applications are reviewed for completeness, quality, and accuracy.
August, 2020 States certify that nominated public schools have met all eligibility requirements.
September, 2020 The Secretary of Education announces the 2020 National Blue Ribbon Schools (public and non-public).
November, 2020 Two representatives from each school, the principal, a teacher, and a superintendent attend the recognition ceremony in Washington, DC.

What are the benefits and responsibilities of being recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education?

The National Blue Ribbon School award acknowledges and validates the hard work of students, educators, families, and communities in striving for—and attaining—exemplary achievement. For many educators, receiving the award is the realization of a long-held dream. Local and state media eagerly profile recognized schools, helping the school, its district, and community gain additional exposure.

National Blue Ribbon Schools serve as models of effective school practices for state and district educators and other schools throughout the nation; personnel at National Blue Ribbon Schools are often sought out as mentors. Successful applications, posted on the National Blue Ribbon Schools website, detail key elements of successful schools, from individualized student supports, intentional instruction, collaborative cultures, and targeted curricula. Representatives from schools are honored at an annual awards ceremony held in Washington, DC. Each school receives an engraved plaque and program flag with the official seal signifying its status and the year of its award.


What types of schools can become National Blue Ribbon Schools?

Public and non-profit non-public elementary, middle, and high schools can be awarded National Blue Ribbon status. This includes charter, magnet, choice, and schools with religious affiliations.


Whom can I contact about the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program if I wish my school to be considered for nomination?

If you represent a public school and believe your school qualifies for National Blue Ribbon School status, you may contact the National Blue Ribbon Schools state liaison affiliated with your State Department of Education. While most states do nominate public schools for this prestigious award, a few choose not to participate.

If you represent a non-public school, please contact the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) by email: brs@capenet.org or phone (844) 883-CAPE. Additional information is on CAPE's website.


Does National Blue Ribbon School status expire?

A school's National Blue Ribbon School status does not expire. Once a school receives the award, it remains a National Blue Ribbon School. However, school representatives must always use the year of the award when identifying their school as a National Blue Ribbon School.

For example:

  • Central High School, 2011 National Blue Ribbon School is correct.
  • Central High School, National Blue Ribbon School is not correct.

How often can schools receive National Blue Ribbon School recognition?

Schools, both public and non-public, may be nominated for the award only once within a five-year period.


Where can I find the National Blue Ribbon School logo?

The National Blue Ribbon School logo can only be requested by the recognized school.


Where can I order an additional National Blue Ribbon School award flag?

Recognized schools can Contact National Blue Ribbon Schools for information.


Where can I find applications from previously recognized schools?

Successful applications for the 2013-2019 schools are available on the National Blue Ribbon Schools website at https://nationalblueribbonschools.ed.gov/awardwinners/.

Please note that application questions may change from year to year. While reading previous applications can be useful, prior responses may not be the best way to address the current application's questions.


Are there additional resources for learning about National Blue Ribbon Schools?

Are there additional resources for learning about National Blue Ribbon Schools?

More questions?

Contact Aba Kumi, Director of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program at Aba.Kumi@ed.gov or (202) 401-1767



Notes:
  1. The state may rank schools based on all grades served or rank schools separately for different grade spans or grades.
  2. This includes students tested with accommodations.
  3. States are encouraged to nominate schools based on the performance of the subgroups included in their accountability system.
  4. A "sufficiently large subgroup" is one that meets the minimum "n-size" for subgroups in the state's accountability system.


   
Last Modified: 09/27/2019