How to rank Fairfax County Schools

Most people when they are buying a car, they review safety ratings, fuel consumption, reliability, and of course, the price.
Once they have all the data, they rank the results in order to help them make the right decision.

Most of us go through this ranking exercise not only when buying a car, but with most things that require a long-term commitment

When there is a long term commitment, we tend to analyze the situation and weigh-in our options carefully.   It seems that we are always ranking features to come up with the best solution for our needs.

Looking for the right school for our children is no exception

We pour over scores, special programs, and any other feature that can help us make the right decision.

But, why do we search for the right schools in the first place?

We search for the right schools to try to give our children the best opportunity to succeed in life.  When they are in beginning grades, we want them to be well prepared for the upper grades.  When it’s time to send them to high school, we want to make sure that they’re well prepared for going to college or for whatever life brings them.

In order to come up with the best school for their needs, we compare schools.  One way to compare schools is by ranking them.

How can we rank Fairfax County schools?

Fairfax County Public Schools has a very comprehensive website with many data points such as school enrollment, special programs, and test scores.

Specifically, in terms of test scores available for high schools, the Fairfax County Public Schools website ( displays SAT scores, Virginia SOL pass/fail percentages, as well as indicators of AP and IB tests.

These same test scores and pass/fail percentages are used by third-parties to come up with their own rankings

For example, Newsweek and The Washington Post use Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) test results (plus other indicators), to come up with The Challenge Index.

US News uses a “three-step” ranking analysis to come up with their list ofAmerica’s Best High Schools, also based partly on IB and AP test results.

Greatschools calculates their own one-digit rating based on Virginia SOL test results.

If you decide to rank schools using test scores, you can use pre-calculated third party rankings, or directly use the scores.

Comparing Fairfax County Schools through rankings

For example, below is a list with the 24 Fairfax high schools plus 3 more high schools in the area:

  • George Mason in Falls Church City,
  • T.C. Williams in the City of Alexandria, and
  • Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

In this list we have compiled two of the national rankings: US News’s and Newsweek’s.

Note: If you want a more comprehensive table with The Challenge Index and the one-digit score, be sure to get the report “How to choose a school” which is part of the FREE No-Tears Guide to Moving to Fairfax VA.

High School US News Newsweek
Annandale 1279
Centreville 141
Chantilly 224
Edison 804
Fairfax 182
Falls Church 486
George Mason  Hon. Mention 45
Hayfield 567
Herndon 153
Lake Braddock  Hon. Mention 174
Langley  Gold #47 118
Lee 1218
Madison  Silver 114
Marshall  Silver 203
McLean  Hon. Mention 102
Mount Vernon 1516
Oakton 158
Robinson 331
South County 308
South Lakes 221
Stuart 446
T.C. Williams 1179
Thomas Jefferson  Gold #1 Not rated
West Potomac 500
West Springfield 280
Westfield 353
Woodson  Hon. Mention 92

Through this list, you can see that some schools are ranked higher than others. But what do these rankings really mean?

The issue with ranking schools based on test scores is that numbers don’t tell the whole story

On the Fairfax County Public Schools website you’ll notice that the Fairfax County Public Schools system does not rank its schools.  And the layout of the data on their site clearly discourages this.

Why should we rank Fairfax schools by scores?

Ranking the schools based on test scores can give you an initial idea of which schools could be right for you and helps you to make a short list. Once you have your short list, you can ultimately choose a school or two based on other parameters such as: available special programs, other parents’ recommendations, etc.


  • We search for the right school to give our children the best opportunities to succeed in life
  • To come up with the right school, one way to do it is to rank them
  • One way to rank schools is by using test scores
  • The table above lists Fairfax high schools with a couple of the national rankings
  • You can use rankings to come up with a short list of schools that meet your criteria
  • Then review other parameters such as special programs and recommendations.

Once you have ranked all the options, you can feel confident that you are ready to make the right decision.

Next step

Download the FREE No-Tears Guide to Moving to Fairfax VA which contains a comprehensive explanation of ranking systems and special programs in the report “How to choose a school in Fairfax VA”

Data sources: & April 2011

Your turn, what do you think?

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