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Nonpublic school scores -- the rest of the story

School Choice Indiana issued a news release today to boast that Indiana voucher schools had higher passing rates than Indianapublic schools. No surprise there -- the schools always have had higher passing rates.

But what School Choice Indiana neglects to disclose is that nonpublic schools overall saw decreasing passing rates in every area: math, language arts, social studies and science. That's in contrast to across-the-board increases in passing rates at Indiana public schools.

You can see the rates here, from Indiana Department of Education data.

Indiana public schools, in fact, have seen passing rates in each of the subject areas increase over each of the past four years. By contrast, nonpublic schools have seen mostly flat passing rates until this year's decrease.

The Indiana Department of Education doesn't break out voucher schools from nonpublic schools, but a quick survey of 2011-to-2012 passing-rate comparisons shows many voucher schools saw their passing rates drop – some by significant rates. Saint Paul Lutheran School in Fort Waynes aw nearly an 11 percentage-point decline. Saint Therese School in Fort Wayne fell by nearly 9 percentage points. At South Bend's Our Lady of Hungary School, the decline was nearly 12 percentage points.

Choice proponents would note that scores were affected by the transfer of public-school students, but the test is administered in the spring, after almost a year of private or parochial school instruction. The public school transfers are also self-selected – coming from households where parents actively sought a public school alternative and have a demonstrable interest in their students' schooling.

A decade into Indiana's charter school experiment, choice proponents haven't proved that public charter schools are a better alternative. They're going to have to show private and parochial schools can improve at least at the same rate as public schools or their voucher case will fall completely to shreds. With falling scores this year, they're off to a bad start.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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