The school year started off with several disappointing headlines about college-bound students’ SAT scores declining (here, for example.) But here’s some good news that didn’t make it into the mainstream media.

According to the Council for American Private Education (CAPE), students who graduated from religious and independent private schools had higher SAT scores than their public school counterparts, and those higher scores actually raised the national average SAT scores.

In other words, the headlines could have been a lot worse absent private school students. As CAPE reports:

… the fixation on stagnation largely ignored another significant element of the story:  scores varied significantly by the type of school students attended.  It turns out that students who graduated from religious and independent schools had scores that significantly outdistanced those of students in public schools and actually helped lift the national average.

Mean SAT scores for public school seniors were 492 in reading, 478 in writing, and 501 in math.  Comparable scores for students in independent schools were 535, 542, and 580.  Meanwhile, students in religious schools scored 533, 527, and 537.

Students who score at or above the SAT benchmark are much more likely to succeed in college. While public school students scored 79 points below the SAT benchmark overall, students in religious private schools scored 47 points above the benchmark, while students at independent private schools scored 107 points above the benchmark.

Importantly, numerous scientific studies document that minority and disadvantaged students attending private schools achieve higher levels of academic performance than their public-school peers—and at a fraction of the cost compared to public schools.

At a time when too many American students are entering college unprepared, policymakers should be exploring ways to expand parental choice programs so a great number of students can attend private schools if their parents wish. For parents who prefer a public school option, having to compete for students has been shown to improve public school performance without additional cost.