Standardized tests not a top concern for school choice parents

Nov 13, 2013, 08:00 ET from The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

INDIANAPOLIS, Nov. 13, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Higher standardized test scores may be a priority for many lawmakers, but in at least one state, it's not the main reason school choice parents chose private schools over public.

Georgia parents opting for private schools through the state's tax-credit scholarship program cared most about disciplinary policies, learning climate, class sizes, safety, and individual attention for their children. 

Those were the findings, released this week by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, of a 2013 survey the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program conducted among its 2,685 participating families, with 754 of them completing the entire survey.

The GOAL program is Georgia's largest Student Scholarship Organization (SSO). Since 2008, Georgia students have been able to receive scholarships to private schools through nonprofit SSOs, which are funded by individual and corporate contributions that entitle donors to an offsetting state income tax credit.

Among surveyed parents, only 10.2 percent rated "higher standardized test scores" as one of their top five reasons for choosing a private school. 

Most popular among respondents were: 

  • "better student discipline" (50.9 percent),
  • "better learning environment" (50.8 percent),
  • "smaller class sizes" (48.9 percent),
  • "improved student safety" (46.8 percent), and
  • "more individual attention for my child" (39.3 percent). 

The survey's authors said those parents' responses challenge the "accountability through testing" approach some lawmakers have required of private schools accepting vouchers and tax-credit scholarships through state school choice programs. 

"These results should dissuade lawmakers from forcing standardized tests on private schools, including those with school choice students," Benjamin Scafidi, co-author of the Friedman report and professor at Georgia College & State University, said. "Parents want to evaluate schools based on their children's needs, not the government's."

If a private school declined to give GOAL parents their sought-after information, 79.2 percent said it "would impact" and 20 percent said it "might impact" their decision. Less than 1 percent said it would not affect their choice.

"Parents are quite capable of holding private schools accountable if those schools don't provide the requested information," Jim Kelly, the Friedman report's co-author and founder of GOAL, said. "Out of respect for parents, policymakers should not be emphasizing one factor, such as standardized testing, to the exclusion of others that parents deem more beneficial for their children."

The survey revealed parents want information about a private school's:

  • student-teacher ratio (84.2 percent), 
  • accreditation (70.2 percent), 
  • curriculum and course descriptions (69.9 percent), 
  • college acceptance rate (61.3 percent), and
  • religious instruction (56 percent). 

Standardized test performance ranked sixth (30 percentage points behind student-teacher ratio) on parents' list of school information they find most important, followed by graduation rates and school discipline policies. 

In gathering information, most surveyed parents (92.8 percent) would ask to tour the school. Determining how convenient the school is to their home was the least frequent step parents would take (48 percent).

The Friedman Foundation report, "More Than Scores: An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools," is available to download at

SOURCE The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice