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Study: Students in La. Private School Pilot Score Low

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A pilot plan backed by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal that uses state tax dollars so certain students can attend private schools is producing low test scores, a new study shows.

The pilot program stems from a 2008 state law that provided $10 million for up to 1,500 students in troubled New Orleans public schools to attend private or parochial schools. Backers call the tuition payments "scholarships" and a way out of dead-end public schools. Opponents call them "vouchers," and public school leaders say they rob their schools of vital state aid.

The review was conducted by Leslie Jacobs of New Orleans, who served on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from 1996-2008, The Advocate reports. She was one of the most influential voices in public education circles, and a key leader of Louisiana's latest push to improve public schools.

During the 2009-10 school year, 1,113 children from kindergarten through fourth grade took advantage of the tuition payments to attend one of 32 non-public schools taking part.

According to Jacobs' study, 240 third- and fourth-graders were tested this year. Third-graders took iLEAP, which is a skills test, while fourth-graders took LEAP, which is designed to make sure students master basic skills before they move to the next grade.

No state tests are given to students in kindergarten, first- and second-grades.

Results show that fourth-graders getting state-paid tuition scored significantly below their counterparts attending public Recovery School District schools in English, math, science and social studies.

In English, 29 percent of students scored "basic" or above compared to 48 percent of RSD students. In math, 27 percent scored "basic" or above compared to 53 percent of RSD students.

Third-graders in the program also scored well below their RSD counterparts in English, math, science and social studies. In English, 35 percent scored "basic" or above compared to 49 percent of RSD students. In math, 28 percent of third-graders earned a rating of "basic" or above compared to 44 percent of RSD test takers.

"Parents should be given data on how those schools are doing," Jacobs said.

The 2008 state law, she said, made no such requirement and parents assume the private schools are better.

Jacobs, a former New Orleans mayoral candidate, said schools also should be required to demonstrate improved academic performance to stay in the state program.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said it is too early to draw conclusions and that it is up to parents to decide whether the state's scholarship/voucher program is right for their children.

Issue 36

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