Palo Alto High School: Full Guide

Location: Palo Alto, CA

Are you a student or parent at Palo Alto High School? Want to understand how to get the most out of high school?

We've written the best guide to Palo Alto High available. Here we'll cover:

  • Breakdowns of student ethnicity, gender, and family income
  • How safe Palo Alto High is to attend
  • SAT/ACT/AP scores earned by Palo Alto High students
  • Which AP/IB classes you can take at Palo Alto High
  • Every sports team you can join at Palo Alto High

Let's get started!

Basic Information

Palo Alto High School is a public school, supporting grades 9 to 12 . It's located in Palo Alto, CA in Santa Clara County.

Based on its location, Palo Alto High is classified as a school in a small city. Here's the location on a map:


Contact Information

Mailing address:

Palo Alto High School
50 Embarcadero Rd.
Palo Alto, CA 94301-2321

Phone number: 6503293701

Palo Alto High School homepage: http://www.paly.net/

Principal: Kim Diorio
Email the principal: [email protected]


Student Demographics

Student Enrollment

The total enrollment at Palo Alto High School is 1944 students, making it a large high school, in the top 25% of all California high schools by size.

Attending Palo Alto High will feel like attending a small college. You'll have a few hundred students in your class, enough to provide an interesting set of activities, sports, and classes to try. But compared to the largest high schools in California, the student body size won't be overwhelming.


Growth in Student Body Size

Is Palo Alto High School growing or shrinking? This will help you see trends in where the school is headed.

From our calculations, the enrollment at Palo Alto High has increased over the past few years. We calculate this by comparing enrollment in grades 9 to 12.

Male Students Female Students All Students
9th grade 256 230 486
10th grade 242 257 499
11th grade 249 235 484
12th grade 239 233 472

As you can see in the table above, the freshman class is 14 students larger than the senior class. This suggests that the school is growing in size and taking on more students.

There are a few reasons this could be happening. The city of Palo Alto could be growing in population, thus sending more students into Palo Alto High. Alternatively, Palo Alto High could be relaxing its student policies and taking in more students.


Gender Split

Are there more boys or girls at Palo Alto High School?

From our statistics, Palo Alto High has a 51:49 split between male and female students in the high school grades.

Palo Alto High has a balanced male-female ratio that's largely representative of the general population in Santa Clara County. Since the student body is roughly half and half, it should feel like there are equal numbers of boys and girls in your classes.

This usually means that Palo Alto High doesn't strongly select for either males or females, unlike other schools that have a large majority of males or females.


Ethnicity Breakdown

What's the racial diversity at Palo Alto High School? Does one ethnicity make up most of the student body, or is it fairly balanced?

From our statistics, Palo Alto High has a somewhat homogenous student body, with the majority of students identifying as one ethnicity, but not representing over 70% of the student body. Most schools in California fit this profile, so Palo Alto High isn't out of the ordinary. Most students attending class with you will be of the predominant ethnicity, but there will be meaningful diversity from other races.

The majority of students at Palo Alto High are white. In California, white students make up 26.3% of all California students, and are the second most common ethnicity after Hispanic students. Thus Palo Alto High is one of hundreds of schools in the state that have a majority of white students.

Percentage Number
American Indian/Alaska Native 0.4% 8
Asian 27.7% 539
Hispanic 10.2% 199
Black 3.4% 67
White 52.9% 1030
Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander 0.7% 14
Two or more races 4.4% 87

High schools usually reflect the population in the surrounding area, so the ethnicities of students likely resembles those of Palo Alto. If you'd like to see how other nearby schools look in diversity, just google "[name of school] prepscholar" to find our guide to that specific school.


Income Level of Palo Alto High Families

What are the family incomes of students at Palo Alto High School? To determine this, we look at the number of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches, a classification by the US federal government.

To qualify for a reduced price meal, family income needs to be below 185% of the federal poverty guidelines. For a family of 4, this means an income of around $45,000 or below.

To qualify for a free meal, family income needs to be below 130% of the federal poverty guidelines. For a family of 4, this means an income of around $32,000 or below.

The lower the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced price meals, the higher the income levels are likely to be.

At Palo Alto High, 2.1% of students qualify for reduced-price lunches, and 4.6% qualify for free lunches.

This means Palo Alto High has a very low poverty level. Nearly no students at Palo Alto High qualify for free or reduced price lunches. Palo Alto is thus likely to have a very affluent community, and Palo Alto High is in the top 10% of California schools in terms of family income.

Number Percent
Reduced-price lunches 41 2.1%
Free lunches 91 4.6%
Do not qualify for reduced-price or free lunches 1812 93.2%

As with ethnicity, this likely reflects the surrounding community in Palo Alto and doesn't speak much about the school itself.

Because Palo Alto High is in the top quartile of schools by family income, it's likely to be well-funded relative to other high schools in California. This means you'll likely have access to advanced coursework like AP/IB classes and better-funded extracurriculars and sports.

It's still up to you, though, to take advantage of the resources Palo Alto High has to offer. If you work hard and spend your time effectively, you'll likely be well positioned to succeed in college and beyond.

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School Safety

How safe is Palo Alto High School to attend? Can you expect a lot of conflict as a student here?

To study this, we look at disciplinary data for two types of incidents at Palo Alto High: referrals to law enforcement (when incidents are reported to police), and arrests.

These are the most serious disciplinary actions available to school administration and are more severe than suspensions or expulsions. Suspensions are often discretionary and can be given just for being disruptive in class. In contrast, law enforcement referrals and arrests often indicate incidents that put the safety of other Palo Alto High students at risk.

In the school year of 2011-2012, there were 2 referrals to law enforcement (0 male, 2 female), and 0 school-related arrests. This is out of a total enrollment of 1934 students.

To put this into perspective, most California schools (59% of them) reported 0 law enforcement referrals and arrests.

This means that 0.1 Palo Alto High is a safe school. For every 100 students, there is much fewer than 1 law-enforcement related action. It's not a perfect record, but it happens so infrequently that it might have just been a few bad apples.

With this record, is Palo Alto High School significantly different from other schools in the area? It could be that Palo Alto High has an especially bad record, or it could be that the local area shows a pattern.

Compare this school with other high schools in the same school district, using the following table:

Palo Alto Unified School District Safety

School Name Total Referred Total Arrests Enrollment
Henry M. Gunn High 2 0 1876
Packard Children's Hospital/stanford 0 0 26

Academic Performance


Now we get to a major aspect of assessing a high school: academic performance. How good of an education will you get at Palo Alto High School? Will you be competitive for college? Will you have access to advanced classes?

We've compiled everything we could find about Palo Alto High's academics here.


Graduation Rate

To start off, an important benchmark of academic achievement is graduation rate. For all students who start high school at Palo Alto High, the state of California wants as many students to graduate as possible, since a high school diploma can mean a big difference in getting a job.

At Palo Alto High, 95% (of 412) Palo Alto High students graduated within four years of starting high school.

Here's how this stacks up to other schools. The California state government has defined 90% as a target rate. The state average is around 80-85%.

Palo Alto High is in the 87th percentile of all public high schools in California for graduation rate. This is well above average. Generally, a graduation rate of above 90% is considered good and well above average, and below 75% is well below average.

Note: This data comes from a few years back, but the trends are likely to stay the same, since schools don't get significantly better or worse within a short period of time.

Standardized Testing


Next, we'll look at another major piece of high school academics: standardized testing performance for Palo Alto High School students. These are tests that are administered to large populations of students for comparison purposes.

Let’s start by taking a look at the data for nationally administered standardized tests.

SAT Scores

As you probably know, the SAT is a critical test used for college admissions. The higher the score you get, the better your academic performance compared to students nationwide, and the easier it is to get into top colleges.

We did in-depth research and found the average Palo Alto High School SAT scores.

The average composite SAT score is a 1920 out of 2400, compared to a national average of 1500. Each year, roughly 524 at Palo Alto High take the SAT.

This is an extremely high average SAT score, putting Palo Alto High School in the elite top 2% of all California high schools. The average student at Palo Alto High is already scoring in the 80th percentile nationwide or higher - indeed, 92% of students score above the national average. This means that the top students are likely scoring well in the top percentiles, and some may even be getting perfect scores every year.

Because you're surrounded by very talented students, this is a good sign that you'll receive a top-of-the-line education at Palo Alto High. By following the trend at your school, you'll have a very strong chance at getting into some of the best colleges in the country.

Here's a breakdown of SAT scores by section:

Average SAT Scores (2013-2014)

Source Critical Reading Math Writing Composite
Palo Alto High 628 661 631 1920
California 498 510 496 1504
United States 495 511 484 1490

Note that the SAT has since changed to a 1600 scale, but the trends above for your high school are likely to continue. Just use this guide to convert between the old 2400 scale and the new 1600 scale.

To learn more about SAT percentile rankings, read our guide on what SAT percentiles really mean.

How good is 1920 as an SAT score? Find out with our complete 1920 SAT score guide, including which colleges you can get into with a 1920 or any other SAT score!

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ACT Scores

In California, the ACT is less popular than the SAT. Fewer students take the ACT, and typically these students are more motivated and academically prepared for college. Therefore, it's harder to compare Palo Alto High School ACT scores with the rest of the country.

At Palo Alto High, the average ACT composite score was 28, compared to the nationwide average of 20. Each year, roughly 235 out of 1941 total students take the ACT.

This is excellent performance, putting Palo Alto High in the top 5% of high schools in California by ACT score. Most students who take the ACT here are scoring well above average and in the top tier of the nation.

Since the ACT is meant to gauge what you learn in school, very high average ACT scores are a good indication that you'll get a high-quality education at Palo Alto High and be surrounded by other high-achieving students.

Here are the average English, Math, Reading, and Science scores for Palo Alto High compared to California and the US:

Average ACT Scores

Source English Math Reading Science
Palo Alto High 29 30 28 28
California 21.8 22.8 22.3 21.7
UnitedStates 20.3 20.9 21.3 20.8

Scores provided are for the 2013-14 school year.

Find out more about percentile rankings and the ACT in this article.

Every individual is different. What counts as a good ACT score for you? Learn more with this article!

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Advanced Placement (AP)

Advanced Placement (AP) classes are college-level courses that are an additional academic challenge may give Palo Alto High School students credit for college.

Here's what we're looking for: high average AP test scores as well as high AP passing rates.

AP Scores

Every year, roughly 646 students in grades 9-12 at Palo Alto High take 1381 AP exams. It's important to understand how students score on the AP - earning a 3, 4, or 5 on the AP test means passing the test and often earning college credit.

The average score of all AP exams taken at Palo Alto High is 4.3 out of 5.

This is a remarkable achievement showing top of the line performance. The overwhelming majority of students taking AP exams here earn a 5 or a 4, placing them well above the national average. Only a few dozen schools in all of California show this level of achievement, placing Palo Alto High School in the top 1% of schools for AP tests.

It's safe to say that Palo Alto High has an excellent AP program, with high quality teachers and classes that will thoroughly prepare students for AP exams. Furthermore, students at Palo Alto High are likely to be highly academically motivated. By attending Palo Alto High, you'll be in strong academic company.

We have specific data on how many students got a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 (out of 5) on AP exams in the chart below:


AP Test-Taking Statistics

Another way to gauge the quality of a school's AP program is to see how many AP students actually took AP exams at Palo Alto High School. If a lot of students enroll in AP courses but don't actually take the AP tests, it can be a sign that students don't feel adequately prepared to take the test, or the school isn't encouraging students to take the exams enough.

At Palo Alto High, there is a total enrollment of 632 in AP courses (a student taking more than one AP course counts more than once).

Of AP-taking students, 446 took AP tests for ALL AP courses. 106 students took AP tests for SOME AP Courses, and 81 took AP courses but took NO tests.


This is good test participation. Most AP students at Palo Alto High School take the AP test for every one of their AP courses, outnumbering the students who take some or no AP exams. This is a good sign that students feel confident enough to take tests for all AP courses available to them, which reflects well on the teachers and course material. Palo Alto High can continue to improve by reducing the number of students who take AP exams for some or none of their courses, but it's in a good state.

Note: The most recent data we have available is from 2012, so the statistics may have changed since then. Most likely, however, the trends are likely to continue - above average schools are likely to stay above average, and below average schools are likely to stay below average.


AP Passing Rates

For AP students at Palo Alto High School who take the exam, it's important to know how they do. Here we have specific data on how many students got a passing grade (a 3 or above) on all, some, or none of the AP exams that they took.

Of all AP test takers, 486 students passed every AP test they took, which is a fantastic job. 41 students passed some but not all AP exams, and 17 students didn't pass ANY AP exam they took.

 

This is very strong performance. The majority of Palo Alto High School students pass ALL the AP tests they take - an impressive feat, especially if students take multiple AP exams each year!

Overall, this points to a strong AP program at Palo Alto High: across all AP course offerings, teachers are able to prepare students well for the exam. There are still some students who fail some or all of their exams, but this is a good starting point to improve from. You'll have a strong foundation to learn from throughout high school.

To find out the passing rates for specific AP courses at Palo Alto High School, you'll have to talk to your guidance counselor (who can then help you find that information). For instance, one AP Calculus teacher may have an above-90% passing rate, while another might only have a 50% passing rate. If you can, you'll want to take the class with the teacher who has more students get a 3 or above on the AP exam.

Find out more about the average score for each AP subject here.


State Tests

As of 2014, eleventh graders attending Palo Alto High School must take standardized tests in English/Language Arts and Math as part of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). These align with the new Common Core standards and are called the "Smarter Balanced" tests.

If Palo Alto High students meet or exceed state standards, they're academically prepared to graduate high school and go to college. Specifically, we care about the percentage of students who meet or exceed state standards. The larger this number, the higher the preparation of students at Palo Alto High.

English/Language Arts

At Palo Alto High School, 80% of students meet or exceed state standards in English/Language Arts.

This is considered very good and puts Palo Alto High in the top 10% of all high schools in California for English/Language Arts. Most Palo Alto High students pass or exceed state standards, and many of them are likely well above average.

English/Language Arts Test Results (2015)

 

Read more about what’s measured in each ELA area score here.


Math

The other major test taken for state assessments is Math. Across the state, Math performance is generally lower than English/Language Arts performance, so it's natural for this number to be lower.

At Palo Alto High School, 76% of students meet or exceed state standards in Math. This is considered well below average and puts Palo Alto High in the bottom 25% of all high schools in California. The vast majority of Palo Alto High students don't meet state standards, and only a small percentage pass.

Math Test Results (2015)

 

Read more about what’s measured in each Math area score, go here.


Academic Offerings


In addition to the standard high school curriculum, many high schools like Palo Alto High School offer advanced coursework as part of the Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.

Brief Intro to AP/IB

AP and IB courses are designed at the difficulty level of college introductory classes. There are several important benefits to taking advanced coursework at Palo Alto High. First, taking more advanced classes shows colleges that you're committed to challenging yourself academically, and that you're one of the more advanced students at Palo Alto High. Taking AP/IB classes also raises your weighted GPA and makes you a stronger college applicant.

Furthermore, many colleges will accept your Palo Alto High AP/IB coursework as college coursework. In some cases, you'll be able to skip introductory-level classes and move to more advanced classes. In other cases, you'll be able to avoid having to take required courses and might even be able to graduate earlier than the standard 4 years. Often this will require you to pass the AP test, getting a score of 3 or above.

So what advanced courses does Palo Alto High School offer?

AP Courses

Palo Alto High School offers AP courses in 22 subjects.

This is a huge number of AP subjects, putting Palo Alto High School in the top 5% of California schools in AP offerings. You'll be able to choose from the most popular AP courses as well as your pick of broader interests.

The total number of AP subjects is 38, so Palo Alto High is missing some subjects, but these are likely the least popular subjects, like some foreign languages and the new AP Research and Seminar courses. If there are any AP courses you want to take that aren't being offered at Palo Alto High, ask your counselor for other options.

Of course, keep in mind that quantity doesn't automatically mean quality - it's important that the courses are taught well by effective teachers. But the strong AP program at Palo Alto High likely means the classes are of high quality.

The following AP courses were offered at Palo Alto High during 2015-2016:

Course Title
Art History
Biology
Calculus AB
Calculus BC
Chemistry
Chinese Language and Culture
Computer Science A
English Literature and Composition
Environmental Science
French Language and Culture
Japanese Language and Culture
Macroeconomics
Music Theory
Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
Physics C: Mechanics
Psychology
Spanish Language and Culture
Spanish Literature and Culture
Statistics
Studio Art: 2-D Design
Studio Art: Drawing
United States History

Sports Teams


What’s Next?


Want to get more useful information about high school classes and preparing for colleges? Our blog has a ton of articles and advice on topics ranging from coursework and GPA to letters of recommendation, extracurriculars, and much more!

Ready to bulk up your schedule and maximize your college preparedness? Read all about the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs.

Not quite in high school yet, but eager to get started? We've also got information for younger students interested in advanced learning opportunities, both in and out of school.

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Sources

The data on this page is drawn from a variety of sources, including (but not limited to):