Understanding School Scores in Silicon Valley
If you are coming to the Silicon Valley area from outside of California, you may not know what to make of our school scoring system. It’s actually pretty straightforward: the API scores (Academic Performance Index) are based on a 1 – 1,000 point system. The target number for “good schools” is 800 (that’s the goal for the county). Anything close to 800 is considered decent. Over 800 is good. Over 900 is rare and is the indicator of an excellent school. Here’s an example of a very strong elementary & middle school district:
Browse school districts by county in CA:
Santa Clara County Schools (San Jose, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Palo Alto & most of Silicon Valley)
San Mateo County Schools (north of Palo Alto along “the peninsula” south of San Francisco, includes San Mateo, Burlingame, Hillsborough, Woodside, etc.)
Alameda County Schools (Fremont and cities & areas along the “east bay” near Santa Clara County)
Santa Cruz County Schools (Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz and areas close to the northern part of the Monterey Bay)
I’m often asked: where are the very best schools in the San Jose area? The answer depends a lot on your expectations and possibly also the needs of your family. If you need special services, such as support for autism or learning disorders, you may want to investigate which schools or districts have the best support. If your child plays a musical instrument, you may want to seek out the schools with a strong band program. Or if you have a serious swimmer, you may be drawn to schools and districts with a great program there. Not everything is measured by the API scores and sometimes you may just have to do more research to find the very best “fit”.
A note about the various school levels and API scores: while in many areas the elementary schools can be extra strong, sometimes as you go on to middle school and high school those numbers will fall a bit. What seems to be happening is that unless all the elementary and middle schools are equally high scoring, the lower performing schools’ impact will be to pull the upper schools’ scores down.
In areas where all three sets of schools go into the 900s, home prices tend to be the highest and buyers face the most competition for real estate because so many families put a premium on education. For instance, in the city of Palo Alto (home to Stanford University), there are 18 schools in all levels. Of those, only 2 are under 900! One of those two is 896! Homes in Palo Alto are highly prized for many reasons, not the least of which are these outstanding scores. And they cost a fortune.
Sartoga has more than one school district, but if kids are enrolled in “Saratoga Schools”, they will enjoy schools in the 900s – only in the 900s – all the way from kindergarden through 12th grade. And again, these homes are very, very expensive (upwards of a million dollars for a very small house).
What is a middle class family to do? To get into a strong school district for under $650,000 is not easy in Santa Clara County, but it is possible if you can be flexible on your home’s size and condition. There are many 3 bedroom, 2 bath homes in the wonderful Union School District or Cambrian School District in the Cambrian Park area of San Jose. Kids in these areas get really fine schools, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, but the houses are in the 600s and 700s instead of over $1 million. If you happen to find a short sale or bank owned home, you might be able to get it in the 500s, depending upon condition. Most of these homes are on the small size, though, as in 1100 to 1400 square feet (smaller ranch style homes). Typically, homes in the upper 5s or mid 6s will require some updating – so being flexible on the condition is important if you want that tradeoff with the great schools.
There are other areas with high scoring elementary schools too, and some of them are more affordable than Cambrian. Have a look at the numbers – it can be a helpful starting point in figuring out where you may want to live.