Best high schools for all types of kids rated by U.S. News

Ceres, Turlock High Schools Get High Marks

Central Valley high in Ceres college prep science class and Turlock High AP Spanish Language class show skills that helped propel these schools to head of the class in U.S. News high school rankings, (Nan Austin/
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Central Valley high in Ceres college prep science class and Turlock High AP Spanish Language class show skills that helped propel these schools to head of the class in U.S. News high school rankings, (Nan Austin/

High schools got graded this week, a national rating done by U.S. News & World Report. The rankings skewed toward schools whose low-income students did better than average in gaining college-ready skills.

RTI International, a global nonprofit social science research firm, crunched the numbers for 19,753 high schools nationwide based on U.S. News priorities. “A great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college bound,” notes the U.S. News website in explaining its grading system.

The rankings do not line up with the usual top-testers for state scores. The evaluators gave more weight to how well low-income kids performed on those tests, and high participation in Advanced Placement courses. Schools without AP or International Baccalaureate courses were not scored.

Le Grand High School in Merced County and Ceres’ Central Valley High in Stanislaus County were the top-ranked campuses in this area. Dos Palos High, Waterford High and Turlock High rounded out the top five. See how high schools across Merced, Stanislaus, Calaveras, Mariposa and Tuolumne fared at

U.S. News ranked Le Grand High, with less than 500 students, 128th among California high schools and 664th in the nation. Donna Alley, Le Grand Union High School District superintendent, credited a talk-it-out discipline program and early adoption of Common Core State Standards for the school’s success.

“We’ve been implementing a program called restorative justice the last three years,” Alley said Friday. Students having fights or issues with teachers take their case before a mediator and work it out. The result has been a better campus atmosphere and higher attendance, she said.

The school also started the switch to Common Core standards three years ago. “We’ve really changed our instruction with the Common Core and having our kids do the critical thinking. So our kids are doing better when they take the AP test,” Alley said.

More than half of Le Grand students – 57 percent – take AP courses, reflecting open access to these more demanding classes. All five of the top schools said they do not base AP admission on test scores or grades.

Ceres Unified School District pushes its students to strive for harder courses, said Superintendent Scott Siegel on Friday.

“What we’re really focusing on, really across K-12, is what we call ‘Ceres is serious about college.’ Our students today have to have access to four-year colleges or a very rigorous tech training program,” he said.

“When you look at the big picture of getting them there, it starts when they come to us,” said Central Valley High Associate Principal Dan Pangrazio.

More high school counselors, roughly 1 for every 300 kids, and field trips for every student to colleges are part of that “think college” plan.

“We want to give the kids that taste. We want them to see it as possible,” Siegel said. “It’s really about producing students who are ready for what’s next,” he said.

Ceres came in as 301st in California and 1,444th in the nation in the U.S. News ranking.

Dos Palos High listed at 373rd in the state. Nearly all the school’s students – 97 percent – qualify as low-income, yet nearly half enroll in AP classes and all take the end-of-year test that determines college credit, said Principal Heather Ruiz.

“We offer after-school intervention with most of our AP teachers, as well as Saturday classes and test prep,” Ruiz said.

Waterford High, ranked 387th in the state, has the highest percentage of students in AP classes in Stanislaus County – 55 percent.

“Waterford High School provides multiple Advanced Placement opportunities for students to challenge themselves regardless of demographics,” said Waterford Superintendent Don Davis.

Going along with those higher numbers of students trying AP courses, the school makes extra help available, said Principal Ignacio Ramirez. “Supports are created for those needing additional support,” he said by email.

Turlock High came in at 389th in the state and 1,800th in the nation. Principal Marie Peterson credited a five-year push to close the achievement gap for its high marks.

“Part of this effort was expanding our Advanced Placement program options and encouraging more students, especially those students who were formerly underrepresented in AP, to enroll in our most rigorous course work,” Peterson said.

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