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OUR OPINION: Congrats, U.S. News ‘medalist’ high schools

Do rankings matter?

Ask Edina, Minnetonka or St. Louis Park, Twin City suburbs whose schools turn up again and again on lists of America’s best. Real estate ads and economic-development efforts in those communities tout the rankings, knowing full well their unmatched power to attract young families with children.

That’s why the announcement of several regional schools winning U.S. News & World Report recognition is such good news. It’s terrific that Grand Forks’ Central High School and about a dozen other high schools in northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota won “bronze awards,” securing spots on the publication’s list of the 4,707 “best high schools in America.”

It’s a distinct honor for Bemidji High School to win an even higher award: U.S. News’ silver medal, the only high school in the region to be so recognized.

And it’s very encouraging for all of these communities to have turned in such strong performances.

For unlike its college rankings, which are based in part on subjective criteria and can be and have been gamed, U.S. News’ high-school rankings stem from hard numbers that add up to a fair portrait.

U.S. News developed its rankings in partnership with the American Institutes of Research. The system “is based on the key principles that a great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show the school is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators,” U.S. News notes.

So, test scores get studied to see whether students perform better than “statistically expected,” whether the least-advantaged students – black, Hispanic and low-income – also perform better than expected and how students measure up on college readiness, the latter being shown by Advanced Placement course and test results.

All of which means it’s a real achievement to earn a spot on U.S. News’ list.

That’s especially true in North Dakota, whose high schools traditionally haven’t fared very well in U.S. News’ rankings.

To some extent, that’s true this year, too. Forty-nine states earned at least one gold or silver medal from U.S. News this year. Minnesota, for example, has seven gold-medal schools (including Edina, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park) and 34 silver-medal schools.

So, which was the 50th state, the one without any gold- or silver-medal schools?

You guessed it: North Dakota, which boasts 29 bronze-medal schools but no silvers or golds.

If the Grand Forks School Board is looking for an “aspirational goal,” one that’s realistic but would make civic pride and morale soar, it should strive for winning North Dakota’s first silver- and/or gold-medal awards.

It pays to win such recognition, but it also pays to aspire — to work hard to be the best. And that’s especially true when the goal is as meaningful as the one U.S. News uses: the declaration that “a great high school must serve all its students well.”

Local schools should take pride in striving to “medal” in such an event.