By DIANE STARKOVICH, Ph.D., Commentary | Published February 9, 2017
Why do families make the commitment to send their children to a Catholic school? What makes our Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta so attractive to many families? Is it worth considering sending my children to a Catholic school? As the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, I am frequently asked these questions, and I would like to take this opportunity to share with you the true value of a Catholic school education.
Catholic schools are known for the academic rigor they offer their students. In the Archdiocese of Atlanta, our elementary and secondary students outperform their peers in both state and national comparisons of performance on standardized tests of academic achievement. Indeed, 72 percent of our archdiocesan schools have earned the distinction of “National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence” since their students’ academic performance ranked in the top 10-15 percent of all schools—both public and private—in this country, during the year in which they qualified for recognition.
Last year, our 600 high school graduates posted a 100 percent graduation rate and they collectively garnered more than $50 million in college scholarship offers (exclusive of Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship)—reflecting an average of approximately $83,333 per student. For many of our families, the scholarship awards their children received far exceeded the four-year total for high school tuition—a very favorable return on the investment!
Knowledge of our Catholic faith
More importantly, however, our Catholic schools also annually assess the faith knowledge and attitudes of our students. Since the late 1970s, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) has offered assessment instruments designed to strengthen catechetical and religious education programs. The IFG: ACRE (Assessment of Catholic Religious Education) is annually administered to our students in grades 5, 8 and 12.
What do our students know about our faith? An analysis of our 2016 performance results indicates that our students outperform the average scores for schools, participating parish programs and combined national averages. The areas (domains) assessed include knowledge of faith, liturgical life, moral formation, prayer, communal life and missionary spirit. Archdiocesan students in grades 5, 8 and 12 achieved higher percentages of correct responses in every area, as well as in their knowledge of the pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: creed, liturgy and sacraments, morality and prayer.
By partnering with our parents, our teachers and administrators not only support our students with learning our faith but also serving as witnesses of our faith every day in their classrooms—180 days of school with an average of 7.5 hours per day equals 1,350 hours of faith formation each school year!
Partners in the education of our youth
What do our students know? A lot! We are truly blessed in the Archdiocese of Atlanta that our Catholic schools maintain the two traditional fruits of effective Catholic education: outstanding faith formation and an academic education second to none. We are privileged to partner with parents whom we consider the first and most important teachers of their children in forming ‘saints and scholars’ in our schools.
As we close out this year’s National Catholic Schools’ Week, I invite you to visit one of our Catholic schools and learn more about what makes them so special. What value can we bring to your family? Come and see.
Dr. Starkovich is the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.