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California Distinguished Schools Program

Honors some of California's most exemplary and inspiring public schools. Schools selected for the Distinguished School Award demonstrate significant gains in narrowing the achievement gap.

Program Information

A component of the California Department of Education (CDE) California School Recognition Program (CSRP), the California Distinguished Schools (DS) Program was established by the CDE in 1985 and recognizes schools that demonstrate exemplary achievements. The California DS Program recognizes elementary and middle and high schools in alternate years. Schools recognized as a California DS Awardee hold the DS Title for two years.

Each year, two of California's DS Awardees are eligible to become a National Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Distinguished Schools Awardee. Information about California's National ESEA Distinguished Schools can be found on the CDE National ESEA Distinguished Schools Program web page.

Eligibility Criteria

California uses a multiple measures accountability system to identify eligible schools based on their performance and progress on the state indicators as specified on the California School Dashboard (Dashboard). Information regarding the Dashboard is provided on the CDE California School Dashboard and System of Support web page.

In 2023 California is recognizing outstanding elementary schools. Eligible schools in the elementary school cycle will be selected within the following two categories using the respective criteria listed below:

Category 1: Closing the Achievement Gap
  • Socioeconomically Disadvantaged data from the 2022 Dashboard.
  • Sub-group data for English Language Arts and Mathematics from the 2022 Dashboard.
  • The ALL student group data for English Language Arts and Mathematics from the 2022 Dashboard.
  • The ALL student group data for Suspension Rates from the 2022 Dashboard.
  • The ALL student group data for Chronic Absenteeism from the 2022 Dashboard.
Category 2: Exceptional Student Performance
  • The ALL student group data for English Language Arts and Mathematics from the 2022 Dashboard.
  • The ALL student group data for Suspension Rate Indicator from the 2022 Dashboard.
  • The ALL student group data Chronic Absenteeism Indicator from the 2022 Dashboard.


On August 22, 2022, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond provided a letter to County and District Superintendents, Charter School Administrators, and Elementary School Principals containing information about the 2023 California Distinguished School Award Program.

Starting in the 2021–22 school year, the California DS Program no longer requires an application. Any school that meets the eligibility criteria for the current year will be recognized as a California DS Awardee. In addition to the CDE News Release and website postings, the CDE will send an email notification to California DS Awardees.

Note: The CSRP uses the CDE California School Directory (CDS) for county, district, and school information for awardee lists and for notifications of award recognitions. You are encouraged to review your entity’s information and submit all updates/corrections through your local educational agency (LEA) CDS coordinator. Updates can be submitted directly to the LEA CDS Coordinator by clicking the Request Data Update(s) link in your CDS Coordinator field on the California School Directory web page for that entity. All county, district, and school names are shown at the time of the award.


Date Event
January 6, 2023 2023 California Distinguished Schools Announced.
February 16, 2023 California School Recognition Program Awards Ceremony.


We are thankful for our California School Recognition Program Sponsors who help to make the California DS Program a success! The CSRP would not be successful without the generous support they provide. We appreciate their willingness to support our efforts to recognize California's exemplary schools, teachers, and classified school employees, for achievement and for advancing excellence in education.

A sponsorship in the CSRP is a commitment to an ongoing partnership with public education by helping ensure that the dream of a world-class public education lives on in California.


California School Recognition Program Awards Ceremonies
Information about the California School Recognition Program Awards Ceremonies.

California School Recognition Program County Coordinators
Contact information for California School Recognition Program county office of education coordinators.

California School Recognition Program Merchandise
Information about California School Recognition Program merchandise.

California Distinguished Schools Logo
California Distinguished Schools downloadable logo.

California Distinguished Schools Awardees
California Distinguished Schools Awardees information.

California Exemplary Program Awardees
California Exemplary Program Awardees by year.

California Exemplary Districts Awardees
California Exemplary District Awardees by year.

Questions: Awards Unit | | 916-319-0842 
Last Reviewed: Thursday, February 23, 2023
Recently Posted in Awards and Recognition