Louisiana Scholarship Program – closing the achievement gap

The Louisiana Department of Education released the 2015 Louisiana Nonpublic School Choice Annual Report, finding students using the Louisiana Scholarship Program making significant academic gains.

“Now, four years into the statewide expansion of the program, we are seeing significant academic gains. As a result of a robust accountability system, more students are attending higher performing schools which has translated to overall increases in program-wide scholarship student achievement,” said Ann Duplessis, president of the Louisiana Federation for Children.

“These academic gains are reflected in the Louisiana Department of Education’s 2015 Louisiana Nonpublic School Choice Annual Report:

  • The Louisiana Scholarship Program has closed the achievement gap with the statewide average by almost half (44 percent gap reduction) over the last five years for students in grades 3-8 achieving at least “Basic” proficiency.
  • Additionally, the report notes that the percentage of students in grades 3-8 receiving nonpublic school scholarships and achieving “mastery” on state assessments increased 4 percentage points, compared to a 3 percentage point increase for all students statewide. Likewise, the percentage of Scholarship students achieving at least “basic” increased 3 percentage points, compared to a 4 percentage point dip statewide.
  • Program-wide, the Scholarship program’s increases in student achievement outpaced the majority of districts. If the Louisiana Scholarship Program were considered a school system with a system-wide performance score, the Louisiana Scholarship Program’s 4.7-point growth from 54.3 in 2014 to 59.0 in 2015 would have ranked 9th among all school systems for annual performance improvement.

Duplessis added:

“The Louisiana Scholarship Program plays an essential role in improving the lives of thousands of Louisiana families. The program affords low-income families with the same opportunity as more affluent parents – the financial resources to send their child to the school of their choice. Minorities represent 88.6 percent of all Louisiana Scholarship Program students.

“The Louisiana Federation for Children welcomes studies that attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of the Louisiana Scholarship Program, including the most recent evaluation from The Education Research Alliance,” said Ann Duplessis, president of the Louisiana Federation for Children.

“While the authors of this report found the Louisiana Scholarship Program had a negative impact on participating students’ academic achievement in the first two years of its operation, it is important that we understand the conditions in which the program operated in 2012.

“The statewide expansion of the Louisiana Scholarship Program occurred at the end of the Louisiana State Legislative Session in June of 2012.  A robust accountability system had not been established before schools began enrolling students.  In addition, participating schools did not receive information on their incoming students until later that summer, giving the schools little time to prepare for their new students. Historically, private schools have not had to close achievement gaps within their student population so remediation was a challenge especially when lacking new student academic data.

“Notably, all of these students previously attended failing and underperforming schools. They arrived at their Scholarship schools with academic deficits and were assessed in the first year before academic gaps could be closed by the new school.”

“As the study pointed out, students entering the Scholarship program in 2012-13 were performing approximately 20-percentile points below the state average. These students swiftly entered a new school setting where they had to make new friends, acclimate to new teachers, adjust to a new school culture, and in most cases learn a new curriculum.  It is important to note that in the students second year in the program, they began to make academic gains once they adjusted to their new educational environment.

“Moreover, education reforms rarely happen in a vacuum.  This is especially true in New Orleans where there are strong school choice options for parents as a result of Hurricane Katrina.  Student achievement in New Orleans drastically increased as a result of the sweeping education reforms.  Given the overhaul of the school system, it is possible that the control group experienced abnormally high academic growth as a result of so many high performing charter schools in New Orleans which resulted in more negative effects in the study.

“The bottom line is that more Scholarship schools are making progress with their most at-risk students, many of whom entered their schools one or more grade levels behind their new classmates.”


Ann Duplessis is a former Louisiana state legislator where she served on the Senate Education Committee and fought successfully to expand educational options for Louisiana’s children by authoring and supporting numerous pieces of school choice legislation. Duplessis resides in New Orleans and remains active in numerous civic activities.