Application Phases

Students studying science with their teacher

After applicants hit “submit,” we begin a comprehensive, research-based review that has five additional phases. The application stage and additional stages are described below.

Phase One

Schools complete and submit their applications through the website. The applications include self-assessments of progress on six different criteria (6 of the 10, including the first 2 as required criteria), as well as data, documentation and other evidence of success. Applicants are invited to contact NEPC research staff at with any questions or requests for assistance.

Phase Two

Each school’s applications and supporting documents are reviewed by at least two members of our national panel of researchers and school leaders. The review process follows our rubric, which is based on the book Closing the Opportunity Gap as well as other relevant research. Schools are reviewed on each criterion but also holistically across all six criteria completed in their application. The recognized schools are all required to demonstrate either advanced or exemplary practices in the two primary criteria. Gold schools must demonstrate either advanced or exemplary practices on a total of at least five criteria, of which at least three must be exemplary. Silver school must demonstrate either advanced or exemplary practices on a total of at least four criteria, of which at least two must be exemplary.

If schools are missing information or have reported information incorrectly, our project staff attempt to contact the school to obtain the correct information.

Phase Three

Our project leadership reviews the school assessments conducted by the reviewers and looks at the schools comprehensively. Then they identify schools with the potential to be awarded Gold and Silver recognition.

Phase Four

School site visits are scheduled. Site visitors are likely to be local researchers and school leaders, who again apply the rubric to conduct their observations. Visits include observations of classrooms or school events as well as meetings with school leaders, teachers, students and parents. Site visitors share their notes and reflections directly with the project leadership team.

Phase Five

Our project leadership team meets for a final review of the application, supporting documents, and site visits notes. If any questions remain, we contact school leaders with clarifying questions.

Phase Six

Gold and Silver recognitions are announced on the Washington Post “Answer Sheet” blog as well as to other media outlets (both traditional and social media). Recognized schools receive their own media packets and banners (both physical and digital) and often host their own local celebration events.