These magnets have become some of L.A.'s highest-scoring public schools

New tests show the city's magnets have soared far above other schools. Read our guide to what it means and explore a list of how every magnet school scored.

Before we start, let's review. What is a magnet school?

A magnet is a public school that is open to all students, regardless of where they live. They have different themes, including performing arts, science and math. Some share a campus with a larger school. Others are free-standing.

The program at the Los Angeles Unified School District, which now oversees roughly 200 magnets, was created in the 1970s as part of a court-ordered desegregation plan.

Parents and students living in the district can apply for seats at a magnet of their choice between Oct 4. and Nov. 10. In most cases, a lottery decides who is accepted. Priority is given to students from neighborhoods with large numbers of minorities, those living near overcrowded schools, as well as the losers of previous drawings.

Viviane Barrios instructs her class at Downtown Magnets High School in August. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

New tests show magnets scoring far higher than other city schools

Test scores released in recent weeks show that students at L.A. Unified, the nation's second-largest school district, lag behind the statewide average.

But the city's magnets soared far above other L.A. schools, according to new data obtained by The Times.

At traditional L.A. public schools, 35% of students met or exceeded English standards. Only 25% did the same for math.

At the city's magnets, the scores were nearly twice as high. For the same English exam, 61% of magnet students met or exceeded state standards. For math, the number was 48%.

Traditional schools Magnets 35% 61 English 25% 48 Math Traditional schools Magnets 25% 48 35% 61 Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789

Taken on their own, L.A. magnets would rank close to higher-scoring nearby districts in Glendale and Claremont.

Elite magnets are leading the way

The highest scores came from a small subset of magnets for gifted and talented students.

Rather than rely on a lottery like the rest of the city's magnets, about 40 schools demand applicants meet academic requirements, which can include how well they performed on state tests.

In total, 83% of students at L.A.'s gifted magnets met or exceeded English standards. For math, 75% did the same.

Gifted magnets Other magnets 83% 56 English 75% 41 Math Gifted magnets Other magnets 75% 41 83% 56 Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789

Separated from the rest of L.A. Unified, those gifted magnets rank close to some of the state's highest scoring districts, such as those found in the wealthy enclaves of Palo Alto and Laguna Beach.

Fifth grader students work together at Eagle Rock Elementary School's magnet for gifted children. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Why this has some experts worried

District administrators often tout magnets as examples of academic excellence.

But because of the composition of the student body at magnets, some experts say disadvantaged students are being left behind by a program created to remedy past discrimination.

For instance, L.A.'s Latino students are underrepresented at magnets, in comparison to the district overall.

Latino Asian Black White 0 20 40 60 80% Magnet test takers Total test takers 0 20 40 60 Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 Source: L.A. Unified

That is also true for English learners as well as students with disabilities and those living in poverty, official statistics show.

L.A. Unified needs to do a better job recruiting high-needs students to magnets, said Keith Abrahams, the district’s executive director of student integration services.

“Every child in the city needs to understand they can go to a magnet program,” he said. “My gut tells me that some families believe that they can’t.”

Footnotes: The Times analysis varies slightly from official numbers released by the state and some districts. Some test scores vary slightly from official sources due to how decimals are rounded.

Sources: Los Angeles Unified School District, California Department of Education, Times analysis

Credits: Sonali Kohli, Sandra Poindexter, Ben Welsh