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Test scores in public and private schools

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LEAD-IN BY HOST SHALINI TRIPATHI: New information has surfaced on the question of which educational school system is academically beneficial to students. With more on the story, here is Demetria Norris.

STORY: Reports released this year by the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicate that students attending private schools score higher on standardized test than students attending public schools. Other studies suggests that minority students in private schools, particularly African Americans, show greater improvement in the areas of mathematics and science.

Private schools use the Stanford Nine Test, a combination of multiple-choice and open-ended questions. The test focuses on real-life situations and elicits actual performance from students.

The Director at Sweetwater Christian School, Jack Hightower, finds that these tests help private school students compete academically with students from public schools. Hightower says that the Stanford Nine is a better indicator of a student's academic level that tests like the TAAS [and TAKS] which are given in this state's public schools.

"Stanford Nine is a test that tests the student on higher critical thinking skills, it gives us a percentage, where as on the TAAS it is just a yes or no. Whether they are on level or off level you don't really know that. Even some public schools use Stanford Nine now because it gives a more detailed explanation of the level that they achieved on those tests."

Many educational researchers do not believe a comparison can be made between the two types of schools, because private schools are not held to the same accountability that public schools are held.

Private schools use the minimum requirements of the public school's system to pass students to the next level. For example, the Stanford Nine test is a Norm Reference Test, which compares scores of private schools students with other students their age. Superintendent of Champaign Independent School District, Arthur Culver, says that the academic growth and development of students are not captured in the Stanford Nine Test.

"There's a high level of accountability because of the state assessment system, and because the state actually monitors the student success at each district as well as on each campus. Sometimes you go to a private school and that accountability piece is not there because there is no outside agency that's really monitoring things and making sure that all kids are achieving."

The increasing advancement of educational success of minority students in the private school system is a focal point in a study conducted by Harvard political scientist, Paul Peterson. Based on Peterson's research, African-American students who leave public schools to attend private schools, improve in both math and science.

Sandra Gayden, an African American mother, who has sent her children to both private and public schools, suggests that higher test scores are not the only advantages of going to private schools. Gayden says that the school environment and the attention that the teachers and administration give to the students are also an important factor in school selection. Gayden:

"When my kids were at school, the teachers were there to meet them in the mornings, take them into class, stayed with them all day, even at recess time...it never changed. Versus public school, you may see a teacher, you may not, and if you do, I would suspect that the one teacher is personally dedicated to caring about her children, or her students rather."

Although many parents use test scores in deciding where their children should go to school, other factors may be of equal importance. School environment, teacher dedication and strong administrative leadership can determine which school -- public or private -- regardless of test scores, is best for all students.

Demetria Norris, KPFT News, Houston

E-mail Demetria Norris at minibee2@yahoo.com .