New Study Reveals Positive Academic Impacts of North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program

Scholarship students outperformed public school students in their first and second years of participation

Raleigh, NC (June 4, 2018) – Researchers from North Carolina State University (NCSU) announced positive findings today from the first-ever academic impact analysis evaluating North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program.  Use of an Opportunity Scholarship was associated with higher standardized test scores for students in their first and second years of participation in the program. Estimated impacts of the program on achievement were “positive” and “large,” researchers found.

In year one of scholarship use, researchers found that scholarship students outperformed a matched group of public school students in reading, math, and language. In math and language, positive impacts were large. In year two, scholarship recipients continued to outscore their public school peers. Impacts for language achievement showed significant improvement, with scholarship students scoring nine points higher than public school students.

This study is the first in North Carolina to utilize an “apples-to-apples comparison” of scholarship and public school students. All students in the NCSU study took the same standardized test: the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), a nationally-normed exam that is not aligned with a particular curriculum. Researchers also matched students based on prior state End-of-Grade test scores, disciplinary incidents, and demographic characteristics. Students were “exact matched” based on family income, according to researchers.

According to the report:

It may be the case that the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program truly has a positive impact on student achievement, perhaps because it reaches highly economically-disadvantaged students (Egalite, Stallings, & Porter, 2017) who have few school choice options in the absence of the program and perhaps the highest potential for academic growth, as a result. (p. 23-24)

“This is the first academic report card for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and the news is good,” said Brian Jodice, Interim President of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC).  “We celebrate these early findings, showing this program is offering children from some of North Carolina’s lowest-income families a real chance at academic success, and it’s spurred by parental school choice.”

“We know this is a pilot study, and that additional evaluation needs to be done. We support ongoing research evaluating the impact of this program on students’ academic outcomes. PEFNC was pleased to participate, along with school leaders, researchers, and state agencies, in a task force that studied evaluation and reported recommendations recently to the state legislature. Nonetheless, we believe this initial study is groundbreaking. It offers lawmakers and the public important, early feedback about how students perform after enrolling in a private school of their parents’ choice using a scholarship,” added Jodice.

Enacted in 2013, the Opportunity Scholarship Program enables low-income students to attend private schools using state-funded scholarships worth up to $4,200 annually. During this 2017-18 school year, 7,344 students are using Opportunity Scholarships to attend North Carolina private schools.  In 2016, lawmakers expanded program funding, allocating $10M annually over the next decade. Funding expansion will enable at least 2,000 additional students each year to receive Opportunity Scholarships.

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