A breakdown of the Santa Cruz high school system from a realtor’s perspective

“How are the schools? » As a real estate agent, this is a question I receive almost daily. Frankly, the answer is not so clear. You could ask 100 different students at school and get 100 different answers because our opinions are shaped by our own experiences. Asking real estate agents would produce similar results.

So how do we rate schools? This is a subjective question that is very difficult to quantify. The State of California as well as many internet startups have been trying to answer this question for years. Historically, schools were ranked solely on their API (Academic Performance Index) scores. Ranking school performance strictly from two standardized tests was not only a flawed system for determining the quality of the school, but it was also a disservice to the students it was meant to serve. In 2018-2019, California removed the API tests for grading schools for a more comprehensive system that provides information on many aspects of education, including graduation rates, suspension rates, college readiness, and more. college/career, etc.

It was a solid option for a visual representation of school performance against the state, but unfortunately the state has suspended reporting state indicators due to the pandemic. The latest visuals available are from 2018-19, available here.

Other options for determining schools are sites like GreatSchools, Niche, and Public School Review. Although the screens are easy to read, where they found the data, it is not. What becomes clear once you locate the tiny hyperlinks is that they pull data from the state website and no display data is currently available (unless you dig deeper), their data is from 2018-19 (Note: Zillow taken from GreatSchools).

As part of a three-part series on local schools (starting with the high school level), I pulled data myself from the state data website to provide the most up-to-date statistics. I will compare graduation rates, percentage of graduates who meet UC/CSU entrance requirements, total number of students, number of students per teacher, student enrollment rates university, test scores and overall website ratings. Those with an *asterisk* are displays of 2018-2019 data and/or data I have not collected. Let’s dive in:

The first thing we are going to look at is the graduation rate and the percentage of graduates who meet the requirements for admission to a California university or a California state college school.

graduation rate graph

We can make a few observations from this data regarding the graduation rate. First, all schools except Watsonville High and Pajaro Valley High performed well above the state average. Scotts Valley High has achieved outstanding results in terms of graduation rate, with 98.4% of the eligible cohort graduating. Santa Cruz High was the Gold Star winner of 2020-2021 in terms of students meeting the state’s admission requirements. Aptos, Watsonville and Pajaro Valley all struggled to meet admission requirements compared to the rest of the county.

Another important metric to determine a school’s ability to prepare students for college is enrollment. The table below shows the percentage of graduates who actually enrolled in college within 12 months of graduation.

university fee chart

Scotts Valley excels both in graduating students and in having a large percentage of graduates actually enroll in college upon graduation. Meanwhile, for some reason, Harbor is the last in the county to enroll in college despite a high graduation rate. Every school in the county outperforms the state average.

Although an incomplete measure of proficiency, test results provide insight into teaching and student retention. Below are the 2020-2021 test results in the county.

test results table

graph of test results

From a testing perspective, the county as a whole is doing very well. Santa Cruz High performed very well in English and math, while Soquel High really excelled in English tests. Watsonville and Pajaro Valley fell behind the state averages in math and English.

School reviews are big business, and there are many companies that try to create a user-friendly, detailed, and accurate description of each school. Below are the rankings of two leading companies in the field, GreatSchools and Niche.

leader board

Based on all of the aggregate data collected, GreatSchools gives Santa Cruz High and Scotts Valley High the highest ratings in the county, while Niche adds the San Lorenzo Valley to this list. We are fortunate to have so many high quality public schools to choose from. The county as a whole performs well above the state average in just about every significant category. It’s not just the public schools that excel here on the coast, we have prestigious private and charter schools with small student numbers that are heavily prep-based and provide a solid foundation for future success.

niche ranking chart

  • Monte Vista Christian (Private | Watsonville)
  • Saint Francis Catholic (Private | Watsonville)
  • Kirby School (Private | Santa Cruz)
  • Pacific Collegiate (Public Charter | Santa Cruz)

Rated 10/10 and A+ by GreatSchools and Niche, respectively. 89% success in English and 77% success in mathematics.

So which school is best for you and your family? Let’s compare.

Port Secondary School

With 1,043 students, Harbor is the fourth smallest public high school in the county. It ranks well above the state average in academic achievement, and 60.5% of its graduates meet the state university entrance requirements. From a student to teacher ratio, Harbor is tied for the best ratio with Scotts Valley. Harbor University’s enrollment rates are actually the worst in the county. Its test scores are also lower than the county as a whole (minus Watsonville and Pajaro Valley). GreatSchools rated Harbor 7/10, praising the school for its test performance and equity performance.

Santa Cruz High School

Santa Cruz is the county’s fourth largest public school with 1,131 students. It scores very well in terms of graduation rate at 94.5%, behind only Scotts Valley and SLV. Santa Cruz gets the county’s top award for graduates who meet the state university entrance requirements. This, despite the worst student-teacher ratio in the county. 78.8% of Santa Cruz High graduates enroll in college, ranking 2nd in the county behind Scotts Valley. Santa Cruz High performed exceptionally well on tests, placing 1st in math and 2nd in English. GreatSchools rated Santa Cruz an 8/10, giving the county’s only 10/10 for college readiness.

Soquel high school

Soquel has the third smallest student body in the county behind only Scotts Valley and SLV. Soquel scores well above the state graduation percentage, and 60.2% of its graduates meet college admissions standards. Soquel’s student-teacher ratio is 24:1. Soquel’s college enrollment is the second worst in the county, but their test scores are really strong, ranking first in English and second in math. Greatschools.org rated Soquel a 7/10 with equity performance lowering the overall score.

Scotts Valley High School


Scotts Valley has the second smallest student body behind only its valley neighbor, SLV. Its graduation rate is stellar at 98.4% while graduates meeting state college admission requirements make up nearly 70% of graduates. Scotts Valley’s student-to-teacher ratio is tied for best in the county at 21:1. 85% of Scotts Valley students enroll in college within 12 months of graduation, by far the best rate in the county. Scotts Valley test scores are third in the county in English and math. Greatschools.org rated Scotts Valley with an 8/10 and a 9/10 in Testing and College Readiness.

San Lorenzo Valley High School

The San Lorenzo Valley has the smallest student body in the county. Its graduation rate is second in the county at 94.6%. Achievement of UC/CSU graduate requirements is 68.1%, third in the county. Despite a small student body, SLV’s student-teacher ratio is 24:1. 74.1% of graduate students enroll in college within 12 months. SLV’s test scores rank 4th in English and Math. Greatschools.org rated SLV an 8/10 and had the highest equity rating in the county.

Aptos High School

Aptos has the third largest student body in the county behind only Watsonville and Pajaro Valley. His graduation rate is 92%, well above the state average but third worst in the county. 56.9% of Aptos graduates meet UC/CSU requirements. Aptos student-teacher ratio is 23:1. 75.4% of graduates enroll in college, 3rd in the county. PVUSD received a waiver and was not tested in 2021. As for the 2019 results, 66.56% of students achieved English standards and 39.32% achieved Math standards. Greatschool.org rated Aptos 7/10.

Watsonville High School

Watsonville has the largest student body in the county. Its cohort graduation rate is 86.1%, the worst in the county and below the state average. 34.1% of Watsonville graduates met state college admissions standards, well below the state average. Watsonville’s student-teacher ratio is 24:1. 71% of college graduates, well above the state average of 64%, enrolled in college after graduation. PVUSD received a waiver and was not tested in 2021. As for the 2019 results, 47.6% of students achieved English standards and 17.12% achieved Math standards. Greatschools.org rated Watsonville a 4/10, slamming the school for its testing and college readiness.

Pajaro Valley High School

Pajaro Valley has the second largest student body in the county. Its graduation rate is 87.1 percent, the second-worst in the county and slightly below state averages. 47% of graduates meet UC/CSU standards. PVUSD received a waiver and was not tested in 2021. As for the 2019 results, 37.8% of students achieved English standards and 13.42% achieved Math standards. Greatschools.org rated Pajaro Valley a 3/10, slamming the school for testing and preparation.

Find your school district here. Find your assigned Santa Cruz schools here.

About Martin Aaron

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