When considering your child’s education, it may be hard not to focus on the potential loans needed to pay for college or the outlook of the post-graduation job market.

Sending your child to a top high school can ease that transition into the adult world. Often, students who graduate from a great high school do so with college credits, scholarship money, and marketable skills.

To help guide you through the universe of public high schools, U.S. News today released the fourth edition of the Best High Schools rankings, available exclusively online.

While the previous high schools rankings published in December 2009 included information on 1,800 schools, the 2012 rankings include data on nearly 22,000 public high schools from 49 states and the District of Columbia. (Nebraska did not report enough data to be included in the rankings.)

U.S. News partnered with the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research (AIR), which implemented U.S. News‘s high school rankings methodology.

To determine the Best High Schools rankings, schools were first analyzed at the state level in terms of how well students in each school performed on state assessments, taking into account the test scores of disadvantaged students (low-income, Hispanic, and black), who tend to score lower on tests.

High schools that made it through this analysis were then eligible to be ranked nationally, in terms of college readiness. U.S. News determines the degree to which schools prepare students for college-level work by analyzing student success in Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, both of which include college-level courses. U.S. News awarded more than 4,850 gold, silver, and bronze medals to the top-performing schools.

In the 2009 Best High Schools rankings, U.S. News awarded 100 gold medals.  This year, that number soared to 500, many of which went to California high schools.

The Golden State is home to the largest number of gold medal high schools (97), as well as the largest total number of schools that were awarded gold, silver, or bronze medals (577).

There are 68 gold medal schools in New York and 46 in Texas, including the School for the Talented and Gifted (ranked No. 1 nationally) and the School of Science and Engineering Magnet(ranked No. 3 nationally), both located in the Dallas Independent School District.

Often referred to as “TAG,” the School for the Talented and Gifted claimed the top spot in the 2012 rankings. Ranked fifth in 2009, TAG topped Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ), in Alexandria, Va., which was ranked first in the previous three editions of the U.S. News rankings.

At the nation’s top high school, TAG students are pushed to be college-ready before they graduate.

TAG students must take at least 11 AP courses in order to graduate and have opportunities to conduct field research through partnerships with local universities and take courses such as Web Mastery.

TJ slipped just one spot below TAG among the Best High Schools, with many of the other top 10 schools shuffling amongst each other. There were two newcomers to the top 10, including University High School in Tucscon, Ariz., which jumped 17 spots to No. 4. High Technology High School in Lincroft, N.J., moved into the top 10 Best High Schools from its No. 11 position in 2009.

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Thank you to U.S. News Education for the information in this article by Laura McMullen.

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