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Fla. Tax-Credit Scholarship Students Match National Learning Gains

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By Andrew Ujifusa. Cross posted from the State EdWatch blog.

With Florida's tax-credit scholarship program slated to expand its reach in upcoming years, a study of 2012-13 academic year test scores from students in the program shows they are keeping up with their counterparts across the country when it comes to learning gains on national norm-referenced tests

The report is authored by David Figlio, a professor at Northwestern University and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private organization based in Massachusetts. He has studied the Florida Tax-Credit Scholarship Program for several years. Florida law requires these reports on the test scores for students attending private schools using the scholarships, as well as the schools' compliance with testing requirements. (Figilio refers to the tax-credit scholarship program throughout as the "FTC Program.")

Using scores largely from the Stanford Achievement Test (taken by 54.7 percent of scholarship participants), the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (24.5 percent), and TerraNova (13 percent), Figlio reports that the average student's score was in the 47th percentile nationwide in reading and in the 45th percentile in math, not much changed from previous years. 

On the subject of learning gains, Figlio looks at students' mean learning gains in both subjects compared to the national average, and concludes that "the typical student participating in the program gained a year's worth of learning in a year's worth of time. It is important to note that these national comparisons pertain to all students nationally, and not just low-income students."

Figlio reports that in the 2012-13 school year, students receiving the scholarships tended  "to come from less-advantaged families than other students receiving free or reduced-price lunches."

However, he also stresses that making comparisons of learning gains between Florida sudents receiving scholarships and students in public schools is ill-advised, since the state's testing regime for public schools has changed. No student taking the FCAT 2.0 (the state's testing regime) has ever taken a national norm-referenced test administered by Florida, Figlio says by way of explanation.

Other findings from Figlio include:

• "The tendency for the weakest prior performers on standardized tests to choose to participate in the FTC Program is becoming stronger over time."

• "Participating students who return to the public sector appear to be lower-performing than other low-income students, but the available evidence indicates that these differences are not due to participation in the FTC Program. Rather, the evidence suggests that returning students are performing at about the same level as they would have been expected to perform had they not participated in the FTC Program."

• "Private schools provided usable test scores for 92.3 percent of program participants in grades 3-10, lower than in 2011-12 but comparable to other recent years. Another 6.3 percent of 
participants were ineligible for testing or were not enrolled in the school at the time of testing."

Read the full report, "Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program Participation, Compliance and Test Scores in 2012-13," below:

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