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April 19, 2015

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Report: Nevada students take fewer advanced classes than national average

Pedro Martinez

Pedro Martinez

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)

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  1. I'm not fully awake, so maybe I missed something, but I'm not seeing the "lack of opportunity." That would mean the classes aren't offered or kids who qualify are being kept out against their will.

    One of my kids chose not to take AP classes, though many of them were offered in the school and by placement. That wasn't a lack of opportunity; it was a choice.

    Unless, as I said, I missed something, this article seems to go along with what we keep hearing in education - a bashing of the education establishment, as if the students themselves have nothing to do with their educations, and as if the lower achievement of poor kids must be due to some kind of discrimination or something - as if being from a poor family has no affect on one's life.

    I was shocked, too, at the free and reduced lunch numbers. It wasn't the Nevada number (lack of concern for education; poor social services; lots of immigrant families, etc.); it was the national number that shocked me.

    America's education problems are America's poverty problems.

  2. Thank you teacher for pointing out the obvious.

  3. @teacher:

    Thanks for your comment.

    The ProPublica data shows CCSD offers an average of 11 AP courses. School districts that serve a similar number of students, such as Miami-Dade and Broward school districts in Florida, offer an average of 14 AP courses, according to ProPublica. There are other schools across the nation that offer more than twice as many AP courses as the CCSD average.

    According to Deputy Superintendent Pedro Martinez at CCSD, there are high schools in the School District that have a high offering of AP and higher-level courses; however, he said it is not systemic. He said he plans to expand the number of AP courses offered, as he said he did in the Washoe County School District.

    Also, Martinez and Superintendent Dwight Jones plan to encourage more students to take these advanced courses because research shows students who take higher level courses are more likely to attend college and succeed there.

  4. I took 5 AP courses when I was a senior and I did well enough on 4 of them that I could have had sophomore status at many Universities had I wanted it. These courses helped me tremendously to prepare for college. In fact, many of our physics majors have had AP courses before coming to UNLV. I strongly encourage our local high schools to offer these courses and encourage their students to take them.

  5. Thank you, Sevenhills! Well stated, as well as Pravica's observations.

    In 2000, I left my Correctional/Alternative Education teaching position in California and I moved my family to Lund, Nevada, a rural ranching community where my son completed 8th-12th grades.

    During that time, he received a fabulous, well-rounded, strong education which also included many after school sports opportunities. His class sizes ran 5 to 12 students. The educational, music, sports, and technology program was state of the art, thanks to Principal James Rickley. It was and is equal to the best private schools in education and sports. Most students there move on to colleges and universities outside the state, and graduate. My son graduated from UNLV and has worked everyday since May, 2010!

    But one thing is for sure, parent involvement in a child's education is CRITICAL and NECESSARY. Without involvement and support, the child simply won't thrive and succeed as their potential could be.

    So, I am not sure where and how these new CCSD Superintendents are going to effectively address parent involvement, considering there is NO enforcement teeth in the yearly "Parent/Teacher/Student Involvement Contract, that schools throughout Nevada State must administer and have signed. Our LAWMAKERS in the 76th Nevada State Legislative Session failed to put ENFORCEMENT teeth in it, all it continues to be, is lip service at millions of taxpayer dollars each year!

    AS I teach here in Clark County, with usually 90% of my class ESL/ELL with free and reduced lunch, non-English speaking families to support their efforts in school that is driven in the English language, I constantly remind them that they "own their own education, and it is what they put the effort and make it to be." Most of them listen, and despite poverty and lack of support, manage to be successful in many areas in their education. While in class, I support career education, using resources as the, which is highly associated to careers that are connected with math, science, reading, and writing. These are not 'service' careers either. And my 3rd graders dream larger. Someone has to "seed" their minds to aspire to the greatness and potential that is within them, that they possess the potential to achieve that dream, it is NOT handed to them, ever! Many of their parents, never got past the 2nd or 3rd grades themselves, and as young and struggling parents, their vision is limited to managing to survive and hope better for their children. They try in that way. WE, in education, need to find ways to help them to do more than that.

    Suggestions, anyone?

  6. Just in case any are curious about the website, I mistyped it, so for clarity, here it is:

    Wished I could manage a subscription, a few years ago most all access was FREE. Not any more. But they do offer trial clips that are available FREE for a week or so, not everything, but still a fantastic tool that truly engage, inspire, and motivate. :)Star