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Private School Students Score Above Average in Reading
Article Reprinted with Permission of the Council for American Private Education.

June 19, 2003—One story largely overlooked in coverage of today's release of reading scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the performance of students in private schools.

As is always the case with NAEP results, students in private schools scored well above the national average in grades four, eight, and twelve. According to the report, "Performance results in 2002 show that, at all three grades, students who attended nonpublic schools had higher average reading scores than students who attended public schools."

The average reading score for fourth-grade students in public schools was 217 on a scale that ranges from 0 to 500. For fourth-graders in private schools, the average score was 234, a 17-point advantage. (U.S. Education Department officials say that an increase of 10 points on the NAEP scale is roughly equivalent to an increase of one grade level.) The private school advantage in eighth grade was 18 points, and in twelfth grade, 19 points.

This year the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) also contrasted private school and public school scores for eighth- and twelfth-graders "while controlling for parental education." It found that the "average reading score for both eighth- and twelfth-grade public school students was lower than the average score for nonpublic school students, regardless of the reported level of parents' education."

CAPE used the NAEP Data Tool to pull out the scores for minority students in public schools and private schools (available only for fourth- and eighth-grade students). It turns out that black and Hispanic students in private schools scored significantly higher than their counterparts in public schools. Further, although the black/white achievement gap was 28 points for fourth-grade students in both public schools and private schools, by eighth grade the gap narrowed for private school students by 10 full points to 18 points, but stayed about the same (27 points) for public school students.

The NAEP report also provides the percentage of students performing at or above three achievement levels: basic (partial mastery of fundamental skills and knowledge), proficient (solid academic performance), and advanced (superior performance). As detailed in the following chart, there were significant across-the-board advantages for private schools in the share of students performing at or above all three levels.

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