Updated Study of Indiana Vouchers Finds Drop in Math Scores Persists Over Time

Politico Pro reports, the final version of a high-profile study of Indiana’s private school voucher program finds that voucher students saw a drop in math scores and those losses persisted “regardless of the length of time spent in a private school.”

That finding is markedly different from an earlier version of the study released last year, which found initial drops in math scores, but that students who remained in private schools for three or four years made up “what they initially lost relative to their public school peers.”

The study’s methods were “revamped” amid rounds of revision with the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, where the research published this week, said Joseph Waddington, one of the authors of the study who’s an assistant professor with the University of Kentucky’s College of Education.

Waddington and his co-author, Mark Berends from the University of Notre Dame, released an early version of the study last year after Chalkbeat obtained a copy through a state public records request. The researchers were opposed to Chalkbeat’s reporting on the research before it was published in a peer reviewed journal.

The findings of the early study fueled the debate around private school vouchers, particularly amid the Trump administration’s support for expanded school choice. The research prompted voucher opponents to slam the drop in math scores while supporters touted the improvements that students made over time.

Waddington said that as the authors revised their statistical approach, more students who participated in the voucher program over the first four years were included in the analysis and as a result, they were able to estimate the effects of the program with a greater degree of precision.

He stressed that there’s more research to be done but there’s little good news to report when it comes to the effect of Indiana’s voucher program on student achievement.

The newer study finds that the drops in math scores were largest during the first two years of a voucher student’s enrollment in private school and that the losses were consistent across most groups of students.

Indiana’s private school voucher program was created in 2011. Vice President Mike Pence oversaw a dramatic expansion when he was Indiana governor.

The analysis looks at Indiana students in grades three through eight who transferred from public to private school using a voucher during the first four years of the program, or the 2011-12 through 2014-15 school years.

The research analyzed math and English scores on Indiana’s state test and found that student achievement in English wasn’t affected. Unlike other states, all private school students in Indiana take the state test.

Research of school vouchers in other states, like Louisiana, has also found a drop in test scores, while some students may improve over time. Supporters of private school choice often note that test scores aren’t a complete measure of school quality, citing high rates of parent satisfaction.

By Caitlin Emma