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

“How are the schools?” As a Realtor, this is a question I get almost daily. Frankly, the answer is not all that clear. You could ask 100 different students at school and get 100 different answers because our opinions are shaped by our own experiences. Asking Realtors would produce similar results.

So how do we rate schools? It’s 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 purely off of their API (Academic Performance Index) scores. Ranking school performance strictly off of 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 supposed to serve. In 2018-19, California did away with the API testing for grading schools for a more comprehensive system that provides information on many aspects of education including graduation rates, suspension rates, college/career preparedness, and more.

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

The other options for determining schools are sites like GreatSchools, Niche, and Public School Review. While the displays are easy to read, where they found the data is not. What becomes clear once you locate the tiny hyperlinks is that they are pulling the data from the state’s website and because no display data is currently available (unless you dig deeper), their data is from 2018-19 (Note: Zillow pulls from GreatSchools) .

As part of a three-part series on local schools (starting with the high school level), I pulled the data from the state’s data website myself to provide the most updated-to-date statistics. I’ll be comparing graduation rates, percentage of graduates who meet UC/CSU entrance requirements, total students, students per teacher, college-going rates, test scores, and overall website grades. Those with an *asterisk* are displays of 2018-2019 data and/or data I did not collect. Let’s dive in:

The first thing we are going to look at is graduation rates and the percentage of graduates that meet the requirements for admission to a University of California or California State University School.

grad rate table

grad rate graph

We can make a few observations from this data regarding the graduation rate. First, every school with the exception of Watsonville High and Pajaro Valley High performed well above the statewide average. Scotts Valley High performed exceptionally well in terms of graduation rate with 98.4% of the eligible cohort graduating. Santa Cruz High was the gold star winner from 2020-2021 in terms of students meeting the state admission requirements. Aptos, Watsonville, and Pajaro Valley all struggled to meet admission requirements when compared to the rest of the county.

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

college going rates table

Scotts Valley excels at both graduating students and getting a large percentage of graduates to actually enroll in college after graduation. Meanwhile, for one reason or another, Harbor is last in the county in college enrollment despite a high graduation rate. Every school in the county outperforms the state average.

While an incomplete measurement of competence, test scores provide a glimpse of the teaching and retention of students. Below are the 2020-2021 test scores in the county.

test score table

test scores graph

From a test perspective, the county as a whole performs very well. Santa Cruz High performed very well in both English and Math while Soquel High really excelled in English testing. Watsonville and Pajaro Valley fell behind state averages in both Math and English.

School ratings are big business and there are quite a few companies out there trying to create a user-friendly, detailed, and accurate description of each school. Below are the rankings from two prominent companies in the field, GreatSchools and Niche.

rankings table

Based on all the collected aggregate data, GreatSchools gives Santa Cruz High and Scotts Valley High the best marks in the county while Niche adds San Lorenzo Valley to that 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 meaningful category. It’s not just public schools that excel here on the coast, we have prestigious private and charter schools with a smaller student body that are heavily prep based and provide a strong foundation for future success.

niche rankings table

  • 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% English pass rate and 77% Math pass rate.

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

Harbor High School

At 1043 students, Harbor is the fourth-smallest public high school in the county. It performs well above the state average in terms of graduation and 60.5% of its graduates meet the state’s college admission requirements. From a student-to-teacher ratio, Harbor is tied for the best ratio with Scotts Valley. Harbor’s rates for college enrollment are actually the worst in the county. Its test scores also underperform the county as a whole (minus Watsonville and Pajaro Valley). GreatSchools graded Harbor a 7/10, dinging the school for its performance on tests and its equity performance.

Santa Cruz High School

Santa Cruz is the fourth-largest public school in the county with 1131 students. It performs very well in terms of graduating rate at 94.5%, behind only Scotts Valley and SLV. Santa Cruz gets the best in county award for graduates meeting state college admission requirements. This, despite having the worst student-to-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 in testing, ranking 1st in Math and 2nd in English. GreatSchools graded Santa Cruz an 8/10, giving the only 10/10 in the county for college readiness.

Soquel High School

Soquel has the third smallest student body in the county behind only Scotts Valley and SLV. Soquel performs well above the state graduation percentage and 60.2% of its graduates meet college admission standards. Soquel’s student-to-teacher ratio is 24/1. Soquel’s rate for 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 graded Soquel a 7/10 with equity performance dragging down 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 grads meeting state college admission requirements is 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’s test scores are third in the county in both English and Math. Greatschools.org graded Scotts Valley an 8/10 getting 9/10 in both Testing and College Readiness.

San Lorenzo Valley High School

San Lorenzo Valley has the smallest student body in the county. Its graduation rate is second in the county at 94.6%. Grad’s meeting UC/CSU requirements is 68.1%, third in the county. Despite a small student body, SLV’s student-to-teacher ratio is 24/1. 74.1% of graduating students enroll in college within 12 months. SLV’s test scores rank 4th in both English and Math. Greatschools.org graded SLV an 8/10 and got the best equity grade in the county.

Aptos High School

Aptos has the third-largest student body in the county behind only Watsonville and Pajaro Valley. Its 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’s student-to-teacher ratio is 23/1. 75.4% of graduates enroll in college, 3rd in the county. PVUSD received a waiver and did not test in 2021. As for 2019 results, 66.56% of students met the standards for English and 39.32% met the standards for Math. Greatschool.org rated Aptos a 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’s graduates met state college admission standards, well below the state average. Watsonville’s student-to-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 did not test in 2021. As for 2019 results, 47.6% of students met standards for English and 17.12% met standards for Math. Greatschools.org graded Watsonville a 4/10, knocking 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%, the second-worst in the county and slightly below the state average. 47% of graduates meet UC/CSU standards. PVUSD received a waiver and did not test in 2021. As for 2019 results, 37.8% of students met standards for English and 13.42% met standards for Math. Greatschools.org graded Pajaro Valley a 3/10, knocking the school for its Testing and Readiness.

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

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