Walls Retakes Top Spot On U.S. News Ranking of Public High Schools
Benjamin Banneker High School, ranked second to Walls / Credits: Eleanor Houser
U.S. News and World Report published its annual ranking of American public high schools last September, revealing that School Without Walls had fallen below longtime competitor and fellow DCPS magnet school, Benjamin Banneker High School. This year though, Walls has reclaimed its top spot among the best D.C. high schools.
The Walls administration shared the new rankings with students and families in an email. Walls Assistant Principal Jennifer Tully explained that she and the rest of the administration felt it important to share the report’s findings with the broader community because “rankings are validating.”
“Everyone at our school works very hard — teachers, students, admin,” Ms. Tully said, “So when you get celebrated for your hard work, it feels good. I think that’s motivating for people. It’s rewarding, and we wanna share that celebration with the community.”
Walls remains second in the Washington Metropolitan Area to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax, which ranks fifth among all high schools in the country.
The U.S. News and World Report analyzes schools over two-year intervals, so Walls’ current ranking is based on its performance in 2021 and 2022.
U.S. News evaluates schools on six criteria. College readiness holds the most weight (30 percent) and is measured by the percentage of students who took at least one AP or IB test by the end of senior year and the share of students who earned at least a 4 on AP exams.
Last year, Walls ranked 2nd in the DMV on college readiness and this year fell to third. Banneker fell too, from 3rd to 4th place. Walls and Banneker sit behind BASIS DC and Thomas Jefferson, both of which had 100 percent of students enrolled in an AP course.
U.S. News additionally measures how many students pass their AP exams. Walls’ AP pass rate exceeded Banneker’s in this year’s rankings. Banneker’s percentage of students passing AP exams fell from 76 percent to 61 percent while Walls’ pass rate rose from 80 percent to 85 percent.
Walls’ high pass rate on AP exams is unsurprising for many students, given the way the school emphasizes doing well on AP courses. “The culture at Walls and just the general attitude of the students has a lot to do with AP success,” said Maeve Cunningham (‘26), referencing the overall emphasis on AP testing at Walls.
Schools are also evaluated on the percentage of students who took multiple college level courses, performance of underserved students, graduation rate, proficiency level on state standardized tests, and whether or not test scores met or exceeded U.S. News predictions.
In both this year’s and last year’s rankings, Banneker had a slight edge on Walls in terms of reading proficiency — with 97 percent of students proficient at Banneker and 93 percent of students proficient at Walls both years.
Walls managed to take the highest position among D.C. schools by improving its overall performance on state assessments. With 84 percent proficiency both this year and last, Walls placed fifth in the metropolitan area. Additionally, 58 percent of Walls students are proficient on science assessments.
While Walls’ first place ranking certainly merits celebration, Ms. Tully cautioned students and families against putting too much stock into such reports. “I think rankings are limited,” she said. “They don’t look at the whole picture of a school. I would never pick my kids’ school based on ranking alone.”
Cunningham echoed what Ms. Tully said, saying that “one number doesn’t really mean that much in the grand scheme of things, no matter how cool it sounds.”
Ms. Tully further noted that given their overall confidence that Walls will continue ranking highly, Walls administration is currently more focused on what rankings don’t capture, such as social-emotional learning and students’ overall happiness. “[It’s] our job to work on what needs to be worked on — the qualitative stuff they would never be able to catch,” she said.