Signal Mountain High School can now officially count itself among the top high schools in the state: SMHS recently cracked the top 25 in U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings for Tennessee.
"Our faculty and staff make every effort to provide the best educational experience and prepare our students for what awaits them beyond high school," said Principal Todd Stinson, who until last year was principal of Merrol Hyde Magnet School in Hendersonville, currently the fourth-ranked school in the state. "Rankings and accolades are not the primary goal of our school, but they do serve as confirmation that, by focusing on what is best for students, our school is moving in the right direction."
The rankings are based on student performance on state-required proficiency tests, in addition to how well the school prepares its students for college, according to the U.S. News website. College readiness is calculated using a weighted average based on participation in Advanced Placement courses, which offer college credit, and the percentage of students who passed at least one of their AP exams, with each school assigned a score from 0-100.
Nearly half of SMHS' seniors (49 percent) participated in AP courses at some point in high school. Twenty percent passed at least one AP exam, earning the school a college readiness score of 27.1.
SMHS fared better on state tests: 73 percent of students scored proficient in mathematics and 83 percent scored proficient in English. In comparison, the average for Hamilton County public high schools was 49 percent proficiency in math and 58 percent proficiency in English.
Daniel Fell, a member of the board of directors for the Mountain Education Foundation, said he isn't surprised at the school's ranking and expects for it to continue to rise.
"I think there is a strong commitment to making the school a high performer in academics, in addition to everything from sports to the arts," he said. "It is a well-rounded community with engaged leaders and community partners helping drive that enthusiasm and commitment."
Top-performing schools are awarded with medals. The schools with the top college readiness scores receive gold medals, the highest-performing schools with lower college readiness scores receive silver medals, and the schools with high performance on state exams but low college readiness scores receive bronze medals.
SMHS received a silver medal based on its high state exam scores, though the school's college readiness score prevented it from attaining gold medal status.
And while overall student performance on the state proficiency exam was high, SMHS didn't do as well as expected, statistically speaking, based on the school's low number of disadvantaged students. The gap between the actual and statistically expected performance was -3.1. (Schools that score better than statistically expected receive positive scores.)
The only other area school to make the rankings is Center for Creative Arts, which claimed the No. 7 spot in the state and No. 468 in the nation. The arts-focused magnet school received a gold medal for its high college readiness score of 57.2.