Private schools top public in average ACT, SAT scores

Families, experts weigh in on benefits of private, public schools.

Local private high school students averaged much higher ACT and SAT scores than their public school counterparts in 2012, according to our study of schools across the Miami Valley, although the top individual scores belonged to public schools.

"The old model was to say 'X' type of school is better than 'Y' type of school," said Tom Lasley, University of Dayton professor and the school's former dean of education. "Now people realize student success is more about how invested families are in the education of their children."

These 13 private high schools in our study were Alter, Badin, Bishop Fenwick, Carroll, Catholic Central, Chaminade Julienne, Cincinnati Christian, Dayton Christian, Lehman Catholic, Miami Valley School, Middletown Christian, Spring Valley Academy and Troy Christian.

The composite average for these private schools on the ACT was 23.6 for 2012 graduating seniors, as compared to the 21.7 average of the nine-county region's 81 public high schools. The private school scores also topped the state (21.8) and national (21.1) averages of students at all institutions for 2012.

Students at the Miami Valley School in Washington Twp. averaged the highest composite ACT of area private schools, at 25.4 out of a possible 36. Of the public schools, Oakwood High School students averaged 26 to top all schools on the ACT.

Like with the local public schools, not every local private school had a statistically significant number of students in their 2012 graduating classes who took the SAT.

The nine private schools that had enough students take the SAT had a composite average of 1,118 for the critical reading and math tests. That beat the 1,079 composite average of the 38 local public schools, whose scores were calculated by the Ohio Department of Education.

That also tops the 1,095 average for Ohio and 1,010 for the U.S. for those two tests for 2012. The highest possible score on those tests combined is 1,600.

Individually, Dayton Christian students averaged 1,172 to give their students the top private school composite SAT score locally, while Troy High School students topped that and the public schools with an average of 1,186.

Investment in education

For private school parents, the investment in their children’s education is both figurative and literal. Annual tuition for private school parents in the Miami Valley ranges from $5,511 to $18,400, with roughly 38 percent receiving some form of scholarship or aid.

For some, like Sharon Nalepka of Miamisburg, this financial buy-in can be extra motivation to make sure a child succeeds.

Nalepka said she has been “incredibly pleased” with the education her son has received at Alter High School in Kettering. Her son is a senior who recently was accepted at Purdue University and plans to major in computer science.

“If you’re paying that kind of money, you expect them to go to college,” Nalepka said. “It would be kind of a waste to send (my son) to Alter and not have him go to college.”

Others say they feel they can get that same college preparation and academic excellence at public schools.

Leanne Davidson and her husband graduated from Dayton Christian High School. She said they planned for their children to transfer to Dayton Christian after attending public elementary school.

But, with their eldest child in eighth grade and getting ready to enter high school, Davidson said they likely will keep their kids in public school.

“The main basis is academics, and I’ve been really impressed with Kettering Schools,” she said. “(State) testing does hold the school to a higher standard. Also, I think my kids are more motivated than I ever was; they’re already talking to them about college.”

Wittenberg University Professor Sally Brannan, who is the education department chairwoman, agreed that the motivation of an individual student is a strong indicator of that student’s success.

“It’s a combination of emphasis and exposure, as well as the intrinsic motivation of the student,” Brannan said. “But good education is good education.”

Linda Clark of Dayton said she found that what’s best for that individual child determines what type of school is best.

Clark’s eldest son excelled at Chaminade Julienne High School, while her younger son found what he needed in Dayton Public Schools.

“We enrolled (the younger son) in a Catholic school that did not know how to handle his ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder),” Clark said. “He really did not fit in well at all, and it did more damage than good. DPS is where he flourished.”

Religion, flexibility play roles

The religious component, which plays a role in 11 of the 12 local private high schools, can be a large factor in choosing a school as well. Many parents feel that teaching children that belief system at school provides a more comprehensive education.

“Our decision to choose private school at the elementary level had more to do with matters of faith development and community than purely academic superiority,” said Ann McManus, whose son will transfer from private school to public school as he enters ninth grade in the fall. “The tuition for private high school is simply not within reach for us, if we also want to provide some support for college.”

Davidson, who works part-time as a nurse, said if she and her husband both had to work full-time and couldn’t be more present in their children’s lives, she might reconsider private school.

“Academics isn’t everything, and that’s where we go back and forth. Dayton Christian is nondenominational but their whole slogan is ‘educating for eternity,’ and that does matter to us,” Davidson said. “It does instill those values. But, if we can do that at home, then we can forgo those (teachings) at school and still have the academics.”

Private schools can be more flexible with curriculum, since they don’t have to adhere to state proficiency test standards. This can allow for more greater latitude with subject matter and activities.

Joshua Mikutis graduated from the Miami Valley School in 2006. He said he believes that students get a range of positive experiences at private schools and public schools, but that the personal attention he received from teachers benefited his education immeasurably.

“Very early the focus was on rigorous critical thinking, analytical abilities and speaking and writing skills,” said Mikutis, who now works as a paralegal case handler for New York Legal Assistance Group in their Immigration Protection Unit. “It’s the benefit you receive from a liberal arts education; it shapes you as a person.”

There also are fewer constraints on teaching credentials in private schools. Private school teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree, but not necessarily in teaching, according to Brannan. Public school teachers are required to have a degree in education, and must have completed a four-year licensing program and hold a current license.

Brannan said it is good to have a choice in education.

“For people who have the ability to make that decision, it’s a wonderful decision to be able to make,” Brannan said. “The vast majority of people across the country can’t afford private education.”

Lasley added that the competition between the two types of schools benefits all students in the Miami Valley by ramping up the quality at both public and private schools.

“We want Stivers, DECA, CJ — all of them functioning at a high level,” he said. “If that’s happening, we’re going to be a stronger community.”

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