Qualifying for an ABS Award



Schools must have high numbers of students who qualify for free/reduced-price lunch, attain school-wide proficiency rates that exceed state averages for all demographic groups, and demonstrate other evidence of excellence providing students with a rich school experience.

After we post our application on our website, we invite local, district, and state education leaders to nominate schools that qualify for our award. Schools submit a letter of intent and then complete a rigorous application along with a video of two lessons taught at their school. Upon our review of the applications, schools that meet all of the award criteria become the pool from which we select our finalists.

Many schools from across the country apply for our award but do not meet our criteria.  Many more schools show interest in applying, but realize that they would not be able to meet the stringent criteria necessary to qualify.

After reviewing all applications, we select the schools with the greatest evidence of excellence as our award finalists; the remaining schools are added to our America’s Best Urban Schools Honor Roll.


Site Visits

NCUST sends teams of educators to each finalist school to both validate applications and collect evidence of excellence.

Site-visit teams:

  1. Conduct observations of all classrooms,
  2. Sit in on teacher-collaboration meetings, parent meetings, and other daily, school activities,
  3. Interview school and district administrators, and
  4. Conduct focus groups with teachers, staff, students, and parents.


Winner Selection

Our team reviews all of the data gathered from all of our finalists to determine who will be our bronze, silver and gold winners. Those that have the most evidences of success earn our gold award, followed by silver and then bronze.

Across all schools we find evidence of high-expectations for student learning, teacher collaboration, direct and small-group instruction to address diverse learning needs, processes to identify and support students who need intervention, opportunities for students to engage in rich arts and extra-curricular activities, and caring, supportive relationships among students, faculty, parents, and community members.

We find students who feet valued, capable, and cared for by all of the adults in the schools.  Bent on preparing their students for college and career, teachers helped their students grapple with rigorous content through problem-based inquiry, interdisciplinary instruction, and small-group discussions of essential questions.  Through career pathways, students gained necessary technical skills while learning to work collaboratively and think critically. In addition, these schools offered students impressive instrumental and choral music programs, visual arts, drama, dance, culinary arts offerings, pre-veterinary science courses, along with a myriad of clubs and other opportunities to enrich and extend learning.




At our America’s Best Urban School Symposium, held in May of each year, we celebrate the winners.

Concourse Village Elementary School
Receive the latest news

Subscribe to the National Center for Urban School Transformation

Get notified about new articles, events, insights, and opportunities.