Washington-area public schools claimed four National Blue Ribbons this year, the federal education department's top award for high-performing or rapidly improving schools.

Arlington Traditional School, a countywide elementary school with an admissions lottery, won its second Blue Ribbon of the past decade, something that Education Secretary Arne Duncan said "happens very, very rarely."

"We can learn from you," said Duncan, speaking Friday morning at Arlington Traditional, where nearly 100 percent of students pass state math and reading tests. "How did you build such a fantastic culture? How do you help students learn so well?

In the District, magnet McKinley Technology Senior High School received the award, while Rachel Carson Elementary in Gaithersburg and Whitehall Elementary in Bowie were among the six public-school winners across Maryland. Nationally, 269 public and private schools received Blue Ribbons.

"Secretary Duncan's recognition of McKinley as a National Blue Ribbon School marks an incredible milestone for our school," said David Pinder, principal of McKinley Tech. "Five years ago our community rewrote our vision and mission to focus on becoming a high-performing school that would be measured in the classroom by our innovative approach to instruction and in student outcomes by closing the achievement gap. We have now accomplished both. Our success is proof that one's economic condition does not determine one's educational outcomes."

In 2005, only 38 percent of McKinley's students were proficient in math and reading on the District's standardized tests. In 2012, more than 90 percent of students passed. More than 50 percent of the students at McKinley are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, the school system's indicator of poverty.

While McKinley is the spotlight this year, Noyes Education Campus was a winner in 2009, and the D.C. inspector general has since confirmed that at least one teacher inappropriately helped students on the 2009 exams that inform the Blue Ribbon selection. Despite repeated inquiries from reporters, the education department has announced no plans to revoke Noyes's award.

All 269 winners will be honored at ceremony in the District in November. In the Blue Ribbon's 30-year history, nearly 7,000 schools nationwide have received the award.

"I promised my students and staff that we would bring home a National Blue Ribbon Award this fall," said Jerenze Campbell, the principal of Whitehall Elementary. "We appreciate everyone's support in helping us to achieve this honor."