Butcher: Arizona should test students in private school tax credit, savings accounts programs - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Butcher: Arizona should test students in private school tax credit, savings accounts programs

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Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.


Posted: Friday, December 7, 2012 8:50 am | Updated: 8:06 pm, Sat Dec 8, 2012.

It’s time to let everyone—parents in Arizona and other states, along with state and national policymakers—see the results of Arizona’s education savings accounts. Over 400 children are using the accounts this year, and thousands more become eligible next year.

But a critical feature is missing from the accounts, and it is the same feature missing from Arizona’s private school tuition scholarship tax credit: We need a way to be sure children in these programs are learning.

It is exciting to see so many children attend the school that challenges them and prepares them for life through a tax credit scholarship or savings account. But children are shortchanged if our expectations stop at the schoolhouse doors. Unless they take regular assessments to measure their progress, how does a child or her parents or teachers know whether she is being prepared for the future?

The savings accounts and scholarships are also vulnerable to attack if we can never show that children using the programs are succeeding. Test results can also help schools see what is and is not working for the children using savings accounts or tax credit scholarships.

In his book Tests, Testing, and Genuine School Reform, Herbert J. Walberg explains that testing regimens are related to better student outcomes. A study of students required to take either the Advanced Placement, New York State Regents, or Canadian exams found that these students “perform nearly a full year ahead” their peers. Another study of 39 nations taking the same international test found that “students in rich and poor nations learned the most when their countries employed external, curriculum-based examinations.”

Details on testing are important; we will have to sweat the small stuff. The link below to our research explains how and why parents should be able to choose a test for their child and not be forced to take the state test. The state doesn’t need to be overly prescriptive, but students should be tested. We owe it to the thousands of children who could be receiving a better education to make sure those who have the freedom to choose their school now are actually getting one.

• Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.

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