With nearly 5,000 students competing in the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) in 2019, it is certainly not an easy feat to make it to the national finals, let alone make it into the top 10 award winners. This year’s competition did not disappoint in excitement. We saw familiar faces in the top tier of the competition again, but there were also a number of newcomers to the podium.

Two years ago we posted our first analysis of the TARC landscape in which we highlighted a few high schools for the number of times they’ve been on the TARC podium (among other interesting facts). With a new ICS award points system in hand to help us analyze the overall TARC state and school standings, it's time to update our Team America Rocketry Challenge Power Rankings!


ICS Award Points System

A quick update on our award point system. For national programs like TARC, we place numerical values on the top awards that lets us compare the overall rankings over the years. A first place finish earns a team 1000 points, 2nd place 750, 3rd place 500, 4th place 250, and placements between 5th and 10th place earn 100 points.

We look at leaderboards from both a state perspective and a school perspective. A basic way to conduct a ranking is by the sheer number of Top-10 finishes. For example, in our previous post, for the decade from 2008 to 2017, Texas led the pack with 14 Top-10 placements. After two more years, Texas still leads in the overall decadal count of the number of top 10 placements, but their lead has gone down having just 12 placements now. All-in-all however, analyzing a state's or school's "power ranking" just on the number of times they’ve had a team in the top 10, doesn’t really do it justice. That’s why we created the ICS award points system, to give credit where credit is due. Teams with higher placements earn higher points.

Another important criteria in our updated analysis is the timeframe. Analyzing results on a ten-year timeline doesn’t make a lot of sense for educational programs. Students are in school for 4 years, so we should examine how the rankings change in four year chunks! To do this, we’re analyzing four-year averages of each state's or school's award points. This allows us to analyze the relative power ranking for a state or school in each four year chunk.


State Power Rankings

For our State analysis, we took the overall ICS award points earned by teams in each state and averaged them during each four-year period from the last decade. This demonstrates the strength of the state’s TARC teams during that period based on how highly they placed each year. The graph below shows the results of this analysis.

There are a few interesting points we can pull from this:

First, Texas and Pennsylvania both started strong early in the decade (in fact, Texas’ dominance early in the decade was unparalleled!) but they have not kept pace in recent years.

Second, Washington led the pack in the middle of this decadal period, but things changed after the 2019 TARC finals!

Missouri was weak in the first half of the 10 years, but has had strong teams on the podium since 2017. And with the most recent 2019 competition, Missouri has taken the lead from Washington State as the most dominant state in TARC! Congratulations to all the students in Missouri helping upstate the rest of the pack! Now the question is, can they hold the number one ranking next year?


School Power Rankings

Being the number one ranked state for the year is great and all, but it doesn’t tell us as much detail as most of us want about the rankings. We want to know what schools are on the top! Of course, it’s easy to say that the teams with the first place award are on top. But when we look at a school’s staying power over the four years (or more) of a competition, a different picture can emerge. So lets see which schools have been dominant for each of the four year periods over the past decade!

We’re limiting this analysis to just the schools that have earned more than 1000 ICS points during the 10 year period. So some schools that may have placed 2nd or lower just once, won’t be on the top of this leaderboard, while other schools that have had 3rd or 4th finishes multiple times will be. Why do we do this? For one, it demonstrates staying power in the competition! And it means that we’re getting schools that have had multiple awards over the years!

In a competition as intense as TARC, it is hard for an individual school to stand out over multiple years. Each year we crown the first place finishers, but being in the top 10 year after year is hard. In the chart above, you can see that as a number of schools keep jockeying for power year after year, and few are able to hold a commanding lead over our four-year analysis periods. While this chart may be difficult to pull a lot of information from just by looking at it, there are a few high schools that have been able to stand out in our overall power rankings:

Honorable Mention: Plantation High School – while never reaching quite near the top of the pack, it's noteworthy to mention this school for its sheer staying power on the TARC leaderboard. No other school has had as many Top-10 finishes over the past decade as Plantation High School (with 7 Top-10 finishes, and 2 just in 2019). If they can start to refine their program to reach more 1st through 4th place finishes, they will be a powerhouse school to watch out for indeed!

#5 Madison West High School – this school has had a monster of a season, taking the #1 trophy home! And while it may seem odd that the first place school isn't also first place in the Power Rankings, we can understand this a bit better by seeing that they're just coming back on to the TARC top 10 stage having been absent from 2016-2018. But they have been here before in a major way. Like Creekview, Madison West High School is now in the elite club of having two top TARC trophies! They were leading in the four-year power rankings from 2013 to 2015. After winning 1st place in 2012, they stayed in the top 10 for the next three years making them the ONLY team to have a four-year run in the TARC top 10 (Festus will have a shot at joining them next year)! If Madison West can maintain their top 10 performance next year, they will be vying for the top spot in our power rankings!

#4 Odle Middle School – this school is something you would not expect. For one, they're a middle school! Being years younger than many of their competitors means it is no easy feat to reach the top tier of award winners. Odle Middle School not only has been in the top 10, but they have been a #1 team (taking the first place trophy in 2016). Even though they only came in at 8th place in the 2019 awards, they are definitely a team to watch for the 2020 competition, coming in at #4 in our rankings.

#2 (tied) Russellville High School - while Russellville hasn't taken home the first place trophy since 2015, they have hit the top 10 leaderboard 3 out of the past 4 years (including taking 2nd place in 2019 and 3rd place in 2018). In fact, Russellville High School is one of just four schools to hit the leaderboard 4 or more times! This demonstrates both staying power, and an ability to take the top award, making them a key team to watch out for next year.

#2 (tied) Creekview High School – this school is in an elite group. It is one of only two schools that have managed to take the 1st place trophy more than once! However, because of the extended period between their top awards, their power ranking never spiked as high as it might have. Creekview High School hasn’t had the regular staying power like Plantation High School demonstrated, but they have shown a power to hit the top, more than once! Furthermore, they were one of just two schools that had more than one team place in the top 10 this year! If they can stay on track in the coming years, they will be in the hunt for the #1 spot in our TARC power ranking!

#1 Festus High School – the likes of this school’s recent powerful presence on the TARC leaderboard has never been seen before. No school has had so many high-level placements in a four-year period as Festus High School started in 2017. From 2017 to 2019, it has been in one of the top three places each year, taking 1st place in 2017, 2nd place in 2018, and 3rd place in 2019. Over the past three years, the students at Festus have achieved something no other school has - a three-year run in the TARC top-3. Now the question is, can they maintain their run and extend their power in 2020 with another top tier finish? Or is their powerful reign trending out after 3 unparalleled years?

As with every competition, it is impossible to predict what will happen next year. While any of these schools could continue their dominant performances, there are thousands of others striving to knock them off the pedestal. Each of these schools (and the hundreds of others in the TARC finals) should be recognized for their amazing rocketry performances this year and before. But who will be America’s #1 rocketeers in 2020? While the safe bet will be on one of the 6 teams above, it’s anyone’s game!

Register for next year’s TARC competition on their website.

And keep track of TARC activities on your free ICS Account!


Its not unusual to hear about a family moving long distances so their kid can play football or basketball for a better school. If they believe their kid has elite-level talent but might not catch the eye of college coaches because their current school isn't competitive, moving can make a significant impact. Families on the athletic track will stop at nothing to get their kids the best opportunities to play for the top colleges.

But what if your kids are more likely to be on the “academic” track than pursuing a career as a professional athlete? Far more of us are likely to have successful careers by gaining knowledge and skills in academics than we are in becoming the next Tom Brady or Kevin Durant. Parents might not regularly move across the country so their kid can attend a school with a better academic reputation, but its not uncommon for them to scout out school districts to see which ones are better than others. If your kid has a knack for science, technology, and math, going to a school with programs that foster and nurture that knowledge can mean a lot for their future. More and more families are even moving to different neighborhoods based primarily on the strength of their school districts!

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to judge the true strength of a school district based just on report cards and standardized test scores. How would it look if we evaluated Football or other sports this way? What we need is to be able to differentiate schools based on real performance in specific academic scenarios. If schools participate in nationwide academic competitions - just like they do in sports - it becomes a bit easier to understand where its academic strengths really lie. We decided to do this with one industry and see what information we could glean about the high schools and states at the top of their game helping to prepare our kids for successful college and career opportunities.


America’s Next Top Rocket Scientist.

The aerospace industry includes some of the brightest minds in the country and according to business insider, it has one of the highest median job salaries out there at $145,000. With over 68,000 jobs in the sector (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) your kids are much more likely to be successful at an aerospace career than professional sports.

So, our question is how can we determine which high schools, school districts, or even states are better for budding aerospace engineers? We can start by analyzing performance in national competitions like the Team America Rocketry Challenge. Our team at ICS spent a little time reviewing the past decade of Team America Rocketry Competition (TARC) performances to see if there were any trends that stood out.

Over the last decade only 24 states have had a team place in the top 10 spots at a TARC competition. Just 9 states have had 5 or more top 10 placements and only one state, Texas, has had more than 10 top 10 placements.

Team America Rocketry Challenge Top Performing States, Institute of Competition Sciences

This is not entirely unexpected. Many of the states with the most top 10 finishes have at least one of two things going for them, if not both. Either (a) they include a large aerospace hub in their state (i.e. Texas is home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Florida is home to Kennedy Space Center, and Alabama has Marshall Space Center), or (b) they are simply a more populous state with more schools competing (Texas is #2 in terms of population size, PA is #6, CA is #1).

What stands out even more when you consider these two factors are the states where neither of them exist. We then might attribute their strong standing in TARC even more to the exceptional performance of the schools and teachers themselves. Three states, Washington, Missouri, and Wisconsin fall into the category where they do not have strong aerospace sectors and don’t fall into the top 10 most populous states - WA is #13 most populous, MO is #18, and WI is #20 (Michigan straddles the edge of being in this category at #10 most populous).

Does this mean that the educators in Washington, Missouri, and Wisconsin are simply doing a better job teaching their students about aerospace and rocket science? Maybe. Maybe not. But it probably means that at the least, they’re doing more with less help from expert mentors in the industry. Should you flock to these states if you want your kids to become aerospace engineers? Probably not. Having the support of a strong industry sector nearby also plays a big role by providing more opportunities for students.


Exceptional Rocket Science High Schools

When we break it down to specific high schools, there are a few that stand out for having long-standing success in TARC competitions over the years. A total of 69 schools have made it into the top 10 placements over the last decade of TARC competitions. However, only 21 of them have had 2 or more repeat placements, and only 7 schools have had 3 or more top 10 placements.

Team America Rocketry Challenge top performing schools, Institute of Competition Sciences

The only school to have multiple first place finishes is Madison West High School (2009 and 2012). Plantation High School in Florida, and Madison West High School in Wisconsin tie with 5 overall top 10 finishes.


Becoming the Next Great Rocket Scientist.

So what does all of this mean if you want your kids to become the next great rocket scientist? Should you plan your move to a new state for a new school? Probably not. What may be the most important thing to take away from this brief analysis of Team America Rocketry Contest is not necessarily the specific schools finishing at the top of the ladder, or even the states with the most top 10 finishes. What matters most is to find a school that participates. You cannot learn to be the next great rocket scientist if you aren’t in the arena testing your skills.

According to the TARC website, more than 5,000 students participate in the competition each year. While this may sound like a large number, consider that there are 15.1 million high school students in public schools (according to the National Center for Education Statistics) in the United States.

So if you have kids interested in aerospace, NASA, or rocket science specifically, and you have some flexibility with which schools they attend, make sure to check in with them on if they participate in TARC and the other great academic competitions that can help your students get ahead. If they aren’t already participating, make sure they’d be willing to get a team started if your kid attends the school. Simply getting in the arena and letting your kids compete to test their skills is the most important thing you can do to help them get ahead in the college and careers of their choice! Don't let them miss out because their school isn't even in the game. 

Check out more information about TARC and other related competitions on the ICS Competitions Database.

The Team America Rocketry Competition (TARC) is the world’s largest student rocket competition. Students are required to design, construct and fly their own rockets. This academic challenge draws an estimated 5000 students each year; with the top 100 teams invited to compete in the National Finals, in Washington DC. Being such a high-octane competition, there are always some exceptional performances. If you're interested in rockets and the next generation of aerospace engineers, you'll want to follow the students in this competition. Get your free ICS account to stay up on all the action in TARC and over 450 other educational competitions!

Each year, new innovative designs are brought to the table in the Team America Rocketry Challenge. So we thought it would be interesting to review placements from the past 10 years to bring you our top five most interesting TARC rocketry performances.

#5. “Most Unlikely Victor” - Madison West High School Team 3 (2009):

When Madison West High School from Madison, Wisconsin pulled their rocket out of its bag, everyone thought the same thing - no way that will get off the ground! It was the most cumbersome, and clunky rocket of the year. Weighing in at a whopping 1310 grams, no one had high hopes for this whale-like Rolls-Royce of the sky. However, all in attendance were forced to eat their humble pie and watch in amazement as Madison West's beast effortlessly soared to an average height of 745 feet in an average time 42 and a half seconds. Their final score of 20.54 saw them take away gold in the most unlikely of victories!

#4. “Biggest Missed Opportunity” - Team FOXTROT (2015):

Whether it be the Superbowl or the America’s Cup, every highlight reel from the sporting archives has one of those moments where athletes or teams flounder at the crucial moment. The TARC final of 2015 was no exception. Team FOXTROT, from Ingraham High School, Seattle, Washington had achieved an almost unbeatable first flight score of 1.00 (the lower the score the better). That score was significantly better than any competitor and a second flight remotely close to that would ensure victory. However, flight two was essentially a disaster. With a score of 36.00, Team FOXTROT fell from grace and an almost assured first place trophy to third position; allowing Russellville City School, from Russellville, Alabama to take gold. One lesson to take home from this - its never over till its over.

#3. “Best Come Back” – Enloe High School Team 2 (2008).

We can’t talk about the biggest missed opportunities without talking about the fairy tale comeback story. Such a story came out of the 2008 final. After flight one, Enloe High School Team 2, from Raleigh, North Carolina seemed to be well off the pace with a flight one score of 17.64. This put them in 14th position after round one. Statistically speaking, it seemed impossible that Enloe High School Team 2 would get on the podium. However, they totally blew all statistical and expert predictions out of the water with an unbelievable second flight, that scored 6.30. To put that into perspective, the next closest flight 2 score was 14.26. Enloe High School Team 2 finished with gold, well clear of the second place team. The showed how a little determination can turn even the worst situations around.

#2. “Flying the State Flag” - Creekview High School Team 1 (2014):

Creekview High School Team 1 is a team that is firmly fixed in the minds of adoring fans from the state of Georgia. From 2008 to 2014, a team from Georgia had only placed in the top ten once; with Lambert High School Team 2 from Suwanee, Georgia finishing in tied second place in 2011. Consequently, no one really had high hopes for any of the Georgian teams in the 2014 finals, or any after that for that matter. However, spectators were stunned as Creekview High School Team 1, from Canton, Georgia took first place in 2014 with an outstanding final score of 14.88. There was only one other team from the state of Georgia that finished in the top 50 that year. Incidentally, that team finished 49th and were also from Canton, Georgia. Just because it hasn't been done before, or at least not in a long time, doesn't mean it can't happen now!

#1. “From the Ashes” - Festus High School (2017)

Number one on our ‘Top Five TARC Performances’ fittingly goes to the TARC 2017 National and World Champions - Festus High School from Festus, Missouri. The past decade of competition had been a series of ups and downs for Festus High School. Having finished 2nd in 2009, 8th in 2011 and 3rd in 2012, Festus High School seemed to be on a winning trajectory and would surely soon be national champions. However, a 13th place in 2014 took the wind out of their sails. Then having not even entered or qualified for the national finals in both 2015 and 2016, it seemed Festus High School’s glory days were over. That was, of course, until their stunning performance in this year’s final, with an exceptional podium topping score of 13.36. Not only that, Festus High School also took home gold at the International Final in Paris. Certainly, an amazing tale of tenacity and determination and rising from the ashes.

Get in the Arena.

So that’s it for this round of our ‘Top Five TARC Performances Over the Last Decade.’ What will the 2018 season bring? One thing we can count on is more stellar performances, so stay tuned. Don't forget to stay up on all the action from TARC, other rocketry competitions, and over 450 student challenges with your free ICS account! If you're not in the arena yet, signup today!