By Denise Dick
City school students who attended private schools using EdChoice vouchers didn’t fare much better on the latest state report card than their counterparts who stayed in the city district — and in some cases, they fared worse.
“Evidently, they’re leaving our school system for reasons other than academics,” said Superintendent Connie Hathorn.
The exodus may be because of the perception that the schools aren’t safe, he said.
The Educational Choice Scholarship (EdChoice) Pilot Program was created to provide students from underperforming public schools the opportunity to attend participating private schools. The program provides up to 60,000 EdChoice scholarships to eligible students.
In Youngstown last year, 695 students exercised the EdChoice voucher option, up from 515 students the previous year.
Because state funding follows the student, Youngstown schools lost $3.6 million last year and $2.7 million in state support the previous year through the voucher program.
But the latest report card scores show that while city students who exercised that option fared slightly better in some areas, they performed more poorly in others.
EdChoice students in third through eighth grade are required to take the Ohio Achievement Assessments. EdChoice students in 10th grade are required to take the Ohio Graduation Tests.
Fifth-graders in the city schools, for example, scored 46.6 percent proficient or above in reading and 33 percent proficient or above in math.
Fifth-graders from the city who used EdChoice scored 57 percent in reading and 23.8 percent in math.
In eighth grade, city school students scored 56.5 percent at or above proficient in reading, compared to 52.9 percent of the EdChoice students.
In math, city eighth-graders scored 29.4 percent proficient or above, compared to 17.6 percent of their EdChoice counterparts.
Patrick Gallaway, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said the assessment data reported are from the spring administrations of the Ohio Assessment and Ohio Graduation tests.
Assessment data for schools with fewer than 10 EdChoice students taking the tests in a particular grade level aren’t reported because of student confidentiality.
The scores are of 80 students who have been participating in EdChoice for one year, 79 for between one and three years, and 30 students for more than three years.
The difference in numbers as between those reported by ODE as taking the tests and those exercising the EdChoice option is likely due to some nonpublic schools not reporting all data.
The department only reports assessment data for a student who has a Statewide Student Identifier number.
“Although our staff has created a tool to assist our private schools with assuring the SSID makes it to the test booklet, not all of them use our tool,” Gallaway said.
If test data can’t be identified with the SSID, ODE does not report it, he said.
“We have to figure out why they are leaving,” Hathorn said. “We’ve made progress, and we’re going to continue to make progress. There’s a sense of urgency that we have to improve.”