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Student Test-Score Performance Fell in Louisiana Voucher Program, Study Finds

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The test scores of students who used vouchers to enter a Louisiana private school dropped significantly compared to their peers who remained in public schools.

That's one of the major findings in a series of four new studies released by the Education Research Alliance at Tulane University and The Education Reform Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas.

The researchers also found that increased competition may have slightly improved test scores in surrounding public schools while overall decreasing segregation in Louisiana schools. Vouchers had no effect on students' non-cognitive skills such as grit and self-esteem.

The Louisiana Scholarship Program was first created as a pilot in 2008 and expanded statewide in 2012. Researchers looked at state test scores over a two-year period from students in 3rd through 6th grades who had originally attended public schools before entering the voucher program in the 2012-13 school year (you can dig into the full methodology here).

Although voucher students' test scores in English/language arts dropped compared to students who were not awarded vouchers, the negative outcomes were especially prominent in math in the first year of the program.

"[A]n LSP scholarship user who was performing at roughly the 50th percentile at baseline fell 24 percentile points below their control group counterparts in math after one year," wrote the researchers in a policy brief on their findings. "By year two, they were 13 percentile points below." 

There could be several reasons for this, the researchers theorize, including a lack of alignment between state standards and private school curricula, the quality of the private schools participating in the program, the success of other education reform policies, and whether the receiving private schools were prepared to educate low-income students coming from poorly performing public schools.

Louisiana's voucher program allows low-income students or those attending public schools graded C, D, or F to use state money toward tuition at a private school.

The ERA study on voucher student academic achievement echoes the findings outlined in a working paper from researchers at the University of California, Berkley, Duke University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that was published in December.

The results of this voucher study are a far cry from the run-away positive impacts that the Education Research Alliance found charter schools had on student outcomes in New Orleans in a series of studies released in August.

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