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Making the list: U.S. News ranks Bemidji High School among best public high schools in America

Bemidji High School Principal Brian Stefanich stands in front of Bemidji High School, which received a Silver Award from U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News listed BHS in the top 500 public high schools for 2010. Pioneer Photo/Anne Williams

What does it take for a high school to be the best in the country?

According to U.S. News & World Report, America's best high schools must serve all their students well and prove through state test scores that their students are being successfully educated.

In the report, Bemidji High School was named in the top 500 public high schools in America and was among 11 other public high schools in Minnesota to receive a silver award, the top award for any Minnesota school.

"This is tremendous recognition for our school," said Brian Stefanich, BHS principal. "We pride ourselves as one of the top educational systems in the northland."

The 2010 U.S. News & World Report's best high school methodology was developed by School Evaluation Services, a K-12 education data research business.

More than 21,700 public high schools in 48 states and the District of Columbia were analyzed. Eligible public high schools had to have 12th-grade enrollment and sufficient data from the 2007-2008 school year. Nebraska and Oklahoma did not provide full data, so schools in those states were evaluated for honorable mention, but none met the criteria.

"It is very data-oriented," said Jim Hess, Bemidji School District superintendent.

A three-step process determined the best high schools.

The first two steps ensured the schools serve all their students well, using state proficiency standards as the benchmarks. Evaluators looked at reading and math results for all students on each high school test.

Then the percentage of economically disadvantaged students enrolled at the school was factored in to identify the schools that were performing better than statistical expectations.

Schools that made it past this first step were evaluated on whether the least-advantaged students (African American, Hispanic and low income) were performing better than average for similar students in the state.

Schools that made it through the first two steps were eligible to be judged nationally on the final step, college-readiness performance, using Advanced Placement test data.

The top 100 high schools nationwide with the highest college readiness index scores were awarded gold medals, ranked numerically.

The next 461 top-performing high schools nationwide - based on their college readiness index scores - earned silver medals.

"It helped that in addition to our Advanced Placement courses at BHS, we have college in the school. Students can attain credits from Bemidji State University or Northwest Technical College," said Kathy Palm, Bemidji School District director of curriculum and administrative services.

Overall, Minnesota ranked 31st in the U.S. News rankings. No Minnesota high schools achieved the gold ranking, and only 11 -- 1.8 percent of the 604 schools rated -- achieved a silver rating. Another 28 received bronze rankings.

Among the Bronze Award winners was Cass Lake-Bena Secondary.

The numbers may be skewed by the difficulty of qualifying for "full analysis" - only 155 of the 604 Minnesota high schools had enough data available for full analysis by U.S. News raters, according to U.S. News.

"We have an extraordinary high school. Ours was the only comprehensive high school in northwest Minnesota to receive this recognition," Hess said.

In 1999, BHS was recognized as one of Newsweek Magazine's top 500 schools based on Advanced Placement participation.

"It's a whole group effort - from pre-K through high school," Stefanich said. "To be one of 11 schools in the state of Minnesota says a lot for our staff, students and community."