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School rankings stoke friendly competition

Public school districts keep tabs on each other while pretending they don't.

May 20, 2012|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
  • The La Canada High Decathlon team at a competition at USC in 2010.
The La Canada High Decathlon team at a competition at USC… (Times Community…)

La Cañada High School placed 39th among its California peers in the 2012 U.S. News & World Report rankings released May 7, and at least one school supporter was justifiably pleased.

“We are very proud of LCHS for nationally ranking in the top 1% of high schools,” read a tweet posted the next day. “And for coming in ahead of San....”

Though the sentence trailed off, those familiar with local public education needed no explanation.

The tweet was the latest salvo in the long-running, albeit genial, academic arms race between California's most elite unified school districts — San Marino and La Cañada — where expectations, rigor and scores run sky high.

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FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story misstated the identity of the person who sent the tweet.

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San Marino High School finished 42nd in the U.S. News rankings for California this year. Its parent district has for several years held the No. 1 position on the widely referenced California Academic Performance Index, with La Cañada Unified No. 2.

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Other San Gabriel Valley districts are not far behind. Arcadia and South Pasadena this year ranked No. 8 and No. 12, respectively, in the index.

Who's counting? No one at the schools. Or so they say.

“Getting high scores is nice, and reaffirms what you are doing, but I don't think we use that as a primary indicator of success,” said South Pasadena school board member Richard Sonner.

Consumer-based school rankings are good for selling publications and little else, according to San Marino Supt. Loren Kleinrock.

“It is always better to be ranked at the top than trying to explain why you are not,” Kleinrock said. “That said, we always try to be excellent in everything. We do the best we can in everything.”

Yet rankings never seem completely out of mind. They come up at school board meetings and PTA events, in residential real estate sales pitches and on school district websites.

Both the La Cañada and San Marino school districts post press releases touting the most recent API scores.

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