Friday, July 1, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Nevada students don't pursue advanced placement classes as frequently as students nationwide, according to nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica.
The New York-based ProPublica analyzed newly released data from the U.S. Education Department to grade states on the “opportunity gap,” the disparity between rich and poor students in their access to higher-level education.
Research has shown students who take Advanced Placement courses and high-level courses in subjects such as chemistry, physics and mathematics have a better chance of going to college and succeeding in higher education. (However, many experts warn pushing students to take higher-level courses is not a catchall solution to the opportunity gap, ProPublica reporters found.)
Forty percent of Nevada students receive free or reduced-price lunch. That’s below the national average of 45 percent.
ProPublica found that Nevada students enroll in AP courses, advanced math, chemistry and physics classes in percentages lower than the national average. Twelve percent of Nevada students take at least one AP course or advanced math, below the national average of 18 percent and 15 percent respectively.
Just 4 percent of Nevada students are in gifted and talented programs, below the national average of 10 percent. Further, 4 percent of students take physics in high school, below the national average of 8 percent.
However, Nevada is on par with the national average for high school students taking chemistry. Seventeen percent of students take chemistry, which is close to the national average of 18 percent.
The ProPublica results didn’t surprise Clark County Schools Deputy Superintendent Pedro Martinez, who was hired in late April to help the district improve graduation rates and student achievement.
A goal of Martinez and Superintendent Dwight Jones this upcoming school year is to propel more students into Advanced Placement courses.
“Sometimes, parents and kids fight us because they are worried about GPAs and getting the Millennium Scholarship (which has a minimum GPA requirement),” Martinez said. “We are going to be pushing students, looking at the kids’ Preliminary SAT scores and honors classes to encourage them to take AP courses.”
School districts in Northern Nevada provided more equal access to education than those in Southern Nevada, according to ProPublica.
For example, 15 percent of students in the Washoe County School District — the state’s second largest — take at least one AP course, compared with 11 percent of students in the Clark County School District — Nevada’s largest district with more than 300,000 students. The Washoe district has 61,400 students.
Smaller northern districts, such as Douglas, Lyon and Carson City, have higher percentages of students taking at least one AP course: 23 percent, 21 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
“Some (northern) school districts, like Douglas, have a history of rich offerings for kids. They are building off of strength,” said Martinez, who previously worked in the Washoe district. “In Southern Nevada, we’re finding that some schools — Palo Verde and Green Valley high schools — have strong offerings, but it’s not systemic.”
The ProPublica analysis also found Clark County schools provide an average of 11 AP courses. Some of the highest-performing districts across the country offer 20 or more AP courses.
Ten percent of Clark County teachers are “inexperienced,” defined as teachers in their first or second years, according to ProPublica.
CORRECTION: The first sentence of this story has been clarified to better reflect the findings of the report. | (July 1, 2011)