Standardized tests are a given in public school, and they’re mandatory for Nevada private schools participating in the state’s budding school-choice program.
“We’re not one of those schools that find testing expectations to be onerous or unacceptable,” said Sue Blakeley, founder of Lake Mead Christian Academy in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb. “We believe having the opportunity to educate children is a sacred trust and we should hold ourselves to a really strict accountability.”
But it’s not clear how the state will hold the schools accountable if students aren’t progressing.
The law creating a tax-credit voucher program for low-income families requires the public reporting of testing data for schools in the initiative every other year starting in 2018.
The state is figuring out the details. So far, the education department has put off any discussion of consequences for the schools, and says it is gathering the data so lawmakers can have “an intelligent discussion.”
Joe McTighe of the Council of American Private Education said imposing public school-like accountability on private schools creates only the appearance of school choice, and can possibly undermine the intent.
“If the governments regulate schools too tightly, what we have in effect is robbing parents of genuine school choice with the appearance of school choice,” McTighe said.
In more than half the country, there are voucher-like programs that allow families to use public money and resources to send their children to private school. The programs generally require that private schools register and report on things such as health and safety inspections, financial statements and student attendance. In many, students must take a standardized test.
The National Conference of State Legislatures and other groups say they’re only aware of three states — Louisiana, Indiana and Wisconsin — where private schools have been restricted or banned over standards and regulations.
Louisiana has penalized low-performing schools by limiting the number of new students they can take. In some cases, schools removed from the program have been reinstated after showing improvement. Only one private school has ever been banned permanently.
“We’re not trying to draw a distinction between the top school from the second-to-top school,” said John White, the Louisiana state superintendent. “We’re trying to draw a line at the bottom of the scale. What’s acceptable or what’s not acceptable.”