In a first-ever ranking of high schools by U.S. News & World Report magazine -- best-known for its influential and controversial ranking of colleges and universities -- 23 of the top 100 schools in the nation were from California, including 10 from the Los Angeles area.
No other state has as many schools on the list, although New York City and its suburbs, with 20 schools, have by far the most of any metropolitan area, and Massachusetts has the highest percentage of its schools ranked among the top 505 profiled.
The top-ranked school in California was Pacific Collegiate School, a charter campus in Santa Cruz, which was ranked No. 2 in the country behind Thomas Jefferson High in Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C.
Also in the top 10 were the Oxford Academy at No. 4, a college preparatory school in the Anaheim Union High School District that accepts students by examination, and the Preuss School at No. 10, a charter school under the joint oversight of the San Diego Unified School District and UC San Diego. The Preuss School is currently under a cloud because of allegations of grade-tampering, but that would apparently not have affected its ranking, since U.S. News relied on standardized test scores, not grades.
In the Los Angeles area, the top-rated school was Gretchen Whitney High in Cerritos, at No. 12. The ranking was the latest in a long list of honors for the school, and Principal Patricia Hager was both proud and circumspect.
"Well, I'd like to be No. 1," she joked in an interview. "I'm very proud because this is a very special place, and I appreciate any opportunity I get to have that recognized."
At the same time, she said, "It's interesting how we define things like 'successful' and 'top performer' -- what does it mean? As a public educator, it concerns me how we use those terms. Every school has something going for it, so in a way it's unfair to other schools that don't score highly on tests. Philosophically it's a dilemma, but I won't refuse the attention."
The other local schools in the top 50 were the California Academy of Math and Science in Carson (No. 21); and Animo Leadership Charter High in Inglewood, run by Green Dot Public Schools (No. 31).
Two Los Angeles Unified magnet schools placed in the top 100: the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (No. 61) and Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High (No. 80).
Other local schools in the top 100 included University High in Irvine (No. 76), San Marino High (No. 82), Palos Verdes Peninsula High (No. 89), Palos Verdes High (No. 93), La Cañada High (No. 95) and Malibu High (No. 98).
The rankings are based on standardized test scores and rates of participation and achievement in advanced placement courses. U.S. News said it also took into account the percentage of economically disadvantaged students at each school and the performance of black, Latino and poor students, rewarding schools in which those students performed at higher levels than their peers in other places.
U.S. News also publishes annual college rankings, which have been criticized for pushing colleges to skew their admissions policies to boost their rankings.
Times staff writer Carla Rivera contributed to this report.