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Research shows

Voucher students’ test scores drop

New York Teacher

Students who participated in Louisiana’s school voucher program experienced a significant decline in their standardized reading and math test scores in the first two years, according to new research from the academic journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

The Louisiana voucher program is a scholarship program that enables low- and moderate-income students who attend low-performing public schools to apply for a voucher to cover tuition at a private school of their choice. The voucher’s value is capped at the lesser of 90 percent of the amount that the state and local governments contribute toward local, per-pupil expenses or the tuition charged by the student’s chosen private school. The vouchers are awarded using an algorithm that randomly assigns students a seat at one of five private schools selected by the student. 

Initially established in 2008 as a pilot program in New Orleans, the Louisiana voucher program was expanded statewide in 2012. The system was modeled after the one that the New York City Department of Education uses for placing students in city middle and high schools. 

Using state standardized test scores to examine the program’s impact in the first two years after the statewide expansion, researchers Jonathan Mills of Tulane University and Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas found the average voucher student’s score in math dropped and was 24 points below the peer group score in a single year and remained 13 points below the peer group by the second year. In ELA, the scores of voucher students dropped 8 points below the peer group score in the first year and remained 7 points lower in the second year.

The researchers said the requirement that voucher applicants come from a low-performing school and the fact that the private schools had only six months to familiarize themselves with the state’s learning standards and assessments and prepare the students to take those tests might have contributed to the poor results.