Best school districts for your buck in Pennsylvania

The Duquesne Incline makes it way up the slope of Mount Washington across the Monongahela river from downtown Pittsburgh, March 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
The Duquesne Incline makes it way up the slope of Mount Washington across the Monongahela river from downtown Pittsburgh, March 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar/File)

Pennsylvanians are serious about education. The state boasts one of the U.S.’s top graduation rates at nearly 86% of students completing high school, counts more school districts than California and ranks as the seventh-best school system in the nation, according to the American Legislative Research Council.

For parents in Pennsylvania, affordability is a key factor in a state where home values range from $40,000 to well into the millions, which can make finding the right combination of housing and schools difficult.

By weighting housing affordability against school quality, NerdWallet was able to find the school districts in Pennsylvania that give you the most bang for your buck.
Here’s how we found the best school districts in Pennsylvania

Standardized test scores. This was a combination of the percentage of 11th graders who scored “advanced” on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA, tests and the district SAT averages.

College readiness. We combined equally weighted scores for the 2013 graduation rate and percentage of high school graduates seeking either two- or four-year higher education.

We evaluated 491 school districts in Pennsylvania. To see the full rankings, click here.

Best school districts for your buck in Pennsylvania

1. Lewisburg Area School District

Located in Union County, the Lewisburg Area School District serves the townships of Union, East Buffalo and Kelly, as well as the borough of Lewisburg. The district earns our top ranking because its 93.9% graduation rate and the 89.2% of graduates seeking higher education clearly show the quality of instruction. The district has received excellent reviews for its schools at all grade levels — from kindergarten through high school — and it has received accolades from the state and media. The district’s academic excellence is impressive in an area where average home values are $177,400.

2. Mt. Lebanon School District

No stranger to recognition, the Mt. Lebanon school district has won National Blue Ribbons for academic excellence and the Governor’s Award for Academic Excellence, and has been recognized by the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation as one of the 100 best communities for music education in the U.S. The district had some of the highest test scores in the state, averaging a 1684 SAT score, and 68.5% of high school students scored “advanced” on the PSSA. In addition to academics, the school district has a number of WPIAL and PIAA state championship titles in sports — including baseball, hockey and women’s basketball.

3. South Fayette Township School District

With an average home value of $183,600 and the state’s second-highest PSSA results, South Fayette Township School District truly delivers when it comes to your money. Located in the Pittsburgh suburbs, the school district largely adds to South Fayette’s appeal as a family-oriented commuter town. The South Fayette High School is notable for having both business management and entrepreneurship and college and career planning departments, which provide courses such as accounting, sports marketing and programming in Java.

4. Hampton Township School District

Boasting “a tradition of excellence,” it’s no surprise to see Hampton Township School District high on our list. The district’s graduation rate of 98.8% is the highest in our top 20, and 86.9% of those graduates go on to higher education. The high school offers over 16 AP courses, and requires students to perform at least 40 hours of community service before graduation. The district, where median home values are $204,700, has been consistently recognized over the past decade for its academic accomplishments.

5. Ligonier Valley School District

When it comes to housing, the rural Ligonier Valley School District — which serves nine towns and boroughs in Westmoreland County — is the most affordable district in our top 10. Ligonier High School, with a 9 out of 10 at the rating site GreatSchools, sees 95.6% of its students graduate on time. Ligonier Valley goes far to prepare students for life after graduation through its Recognizing Amazing Merchants and Students Project, which matches students with local businesses that help provide real-world training in entrepreneurial skills.

6. Upper St. Clair School District

Home of the Panthers, the school district can claim both academic and athletic excellence. In addition to winning the 2013 PIAA boys soccer and golf championships, the district also claimed the state’s fourth-highest SAT average of 1736. The district saw a graduation rate of 98%, with 92% of graduates going on to higher education. As one of the highest-performing districts in Pennsylvania, Upper St. Clair is more expensive than other places on our list, with an average home value of $251,300.

7. Fox Chapel Area School District

Located 12 miles from Pittsburgh, Fox Chapel Area School District is a good choice for parents commuting to work in the city. Serving six towns and boroughs in Allegheny County, the district made our list with its SAT average of 1703, and 67.5% of students scoring “advanced” on the PSSA. Fox Chapel Area School District has implemented a curriculum based on Grant Wiggins’ ‘“Understanding by Design” model, which stresses results. The approach seems to be working as the district has been recognized by the state and media for its excellence in academics.

8. North Allegheny School District

With national and state recognition for its middle and high schools, North Allegheny School District is well known to Pittsburgh area residents. The district performs well across the board, averaging a 1714 SAT score and a graduation rate of 97.2%. The district is comparable to Fox Chapel in location, quality and housing cost, and it also is a solid option for commuters to Pittsburgh. In addition to academics, the district takes pride in its music program, which features a jazz ensemble, concert and marching bands, and an all-strings orchestra.

9. Fairview School District

Located on the banks of Lake Erie, the Fairview School District is one of the 50 best school districts in the state in a place where home values are about $174,300. Students in the district earned high scores for the PSSA and SAT, and the high school provides 11 AP courses. The high school offers a number of environmental and social clubs — such as Students Against Destructive Decisions and the Green Team.

10. Penn-Trafford School District

Serving Westmoreland County, the Penn-Trafford School District averages a home value of $167,300 across three municipalities. The district saw 97.9% of its students graduate, with 85% going on to higher education. Most recently the Penn-Trafford High School concert percussion ensemble earned a gold medal at the Three Rivers Winter Ensemble Association, a concert competition hosted by California University of Pennsylvania.

We evaluated unified school and secondary school districts in Pennsylvania for this study. Because of missing SAT data, our list doesn’t include Central Valley, Armstrong, Salisbury-Elk Lick and Turkeyfoot Valley Area school districts. Other districts — Philadelphia City, East Stroudsburg, Daniel Boone Area, Wilson and Franklin Regional — aren’t included on this list because of missing graduation rate data.


The score for each district was calculated from the following measures:

1. Housing cost for each school district was 33% of the total score. Housing cost was calculated by averaging the district index score for median home value and selected monthly homeowner costs, which includes property tax, for the school district. The more affordable the area, the higher the score. Data are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey.

2. Standardized testing scores are 33% of the total score. Districtwide SAT averages from 2013 and 2012 PSSA results were equally averaged to create a composite index. Data are from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

3. College readiness for the class of 2013 was 33% of the total score. College readiness was a combination of a school district’s high school graduation rate, which is the percentage of students who graduate in the standard four years, and the percentage of students going on to two- or four-year institutions for higher education. Data are from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.


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