New Test Results: School Choice Students Outperform Public School Peers

When compared to economically disadvantaged public school students, students in choice programs outperformed in every category

MacIver News Service | March 16, 2016

[Madison, Wis…] New test results from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) show that students in school choice programs outperformed their peers in public schools in almost every category. When comparing students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), Racine Parental Choice Program (RPCP), and Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) to their public school counterparts, choice participants outperformed economically disadvantaged public school students in every category.

The test results encompass scores from the Badger Exam, the ACT, and the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) Exam. Most notably, in Milwaukee, income-limited MPCP students outperformed their Milwaukee Public School (MPS) peers by every measure.

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In Racine and statewide, choice students outperformed their public school peers on the ACT and DLM Exam, but not the Badger Exam. However, when comparing RPCP and WPCP students to economically disadvantaged public school students in Racine and statewide, choice students fared better in every category.

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For new students, participation in the WPCP with a voucher is limited to those with a family income at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. For example, in a married family of four, the family must make a maximum of $52,263 in 2016 to apply for a voucher. Similarly, for new students, participation in the RPCP and MPCP with a voucher is limited to those with a family income at or below 300% of the federal poverty line, or $80,401 for a family of four in 2016. Students continuing in any of the programs or who were on a choice waiting list at a choice school in the prior school year are no longer required to meet the income limits.

Comparing choice students to economically disadvantaged public school students provides a more accurate comparison because of the income limitations included in choice participation.

Supporters of school choice programs hailed the results as another example of the success of choice in education.

“Empowering parents with the ability to choose a school that best suits the child’s needs is working in Wisconsin and resulting in students performing better academically,” Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children, said. “This data corroborates a consistent theme that even more rigorous studies have confirmed – voucher students achieve academic success and often outperform their peers attending traditional public schools. These test results should serve as an opportunity to celebrate school choice and reinforce the need for all involved in education to work together to ensure every child has access to a quality school, whether it is traditional public school, public charter school or one of the many high-quality private schools throughout Wisconsin.”

Statewide advocates echoed the sentiments.

“The test results show higher scores for students in the Parental Choice Programs,” Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin, said. “Previous research has showed higher test scores, higher graduation rates and college acceptance rates.”

Bender went on to reference the recent University of Arkansas study that found a link between participation in MPCP through high school and decreased crime rates, compared to similar students at MPS. The study showed that students who attended a private school using vouchers through the entirety of high school were 75 percent less likely to commit a felony, 56-78 percent less likely to commit a misdemeanor, and 21-50 percent less likely to be accused of any crime, compared to similar public school students.

These results provide a unique glimpse into student performance. The Badger Exam was only administered once and will be replaced with the Wisconsin Forward Exam this spring. This was also the first year that all public school students took the ACT across the state.

While he didn’t directly reference the results of school choice students, State Superintendent Tony Evers did celebrate the improvement in results for students across economic boundaries.

“We have opened doors for high school students across the state with the opportunity to take the ACT,” Evers said. “The results for the ACT and Badger exams show that advancing the education of all students, especially those from diverse backgrounds and income levels, is a challenge across all grades and sectors. We want all of our students to graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills for college and career; it’s ‘the ticket’ to a successful future.”

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