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May 3, 2015

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14 schools earn five-star status in School District’s high school rankings


Paul Takahashi

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones unveils a new ranking system for the School District’s 48 high schools at Cimarron-Memorial High School on Thursday, May 24, 2012. Fourteen of the 48 ranked high schools were rated five-stars; however, all but three of these top-performing schools were either magnet or Career and Technical Academies.

Updated Thursday, May 24, 2012 | 9:10 p.m.

Indoor Skydiving for Top-Ranked Schools

Kristy Napoli, English teacher at West Prep at West Hall, floats weightlessly at Vegas Indoor Skydiving, May 24, 2012. CCSD congratulated the accomplishments of Five Star ranked high schools by sending their principals to Vegas Indoor Skydiving, Launch slideshow »

High school rankings

The Clark County School District released its high school rankings Thursday at Cimarron-Memorial High School.

But unlike earlier this year, when elementary and middle school rankings were unveiled at a top-ranked, five-star school, the high school rankings were released at a one-star school.

The lower status came as a surprise to Cimarron-Memorial, a well-regarded school and home to a robotics team that recently won second place in an international competition.

The one-star ranking is hard to swallow, but the northwest valley high school is ready to take ownership of its ranking, said Principal Joe Caruso, a 12-year veteran at Cimarron-Memorial. Despite the school’s changing demographics, Cimarron-Memorial is determined to improve, he added.

“Cimarron-Memorial is a one-star school,” Caruso said, letting that fact slowly sink in among the handful of students and the nearly 50 principals gathered in the auditorium. “Our faculty and staff understands this and we acknowledge the hard work ahead. We are a family, and we will emerge from this stronger.”

Adding to the elementary and middle school rankings released in February, the School District rated 49 public high schools on a five-tier scale, assigning five stars for the highest-performing schools to one star for the lowest-performing schools.

Clark County is the first school district in Nevada to implement a school ranking system popularized by major urban districts in New York City, Los Angeles, Denver and Miami.

“The School Performance Frameworks gives us a way to define success in terms of academic success for all students,” Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones said. “This is not a beauty contest. … It’s a way for us to learn how to get better faster.”

Under the high school ranking system, Clark County high schools each were assigned a numerical score out of 100 points based on a number of categories. Although academic growth – how much a student improves on standardized tests year over year – figured prominently in elementary and middle school rankings, meeting academic goals such as graduation was of greater importance in the high school rankings, officials said.

Scores were broken down as follows:

• Graduation (35 percent): Graduation rate, first-time pass rates on the high school proficiency exam and the percentage of credit-sufficient students.

• College and career readiness (35 percent): Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate enrollment and performance, passing rates on 70 career and technical courses offered by CSN and four years of math and three years of science completion by 12th grade – a widely-accepted indicator of college success

• Academic growth (20 percent): Improvement on test scores between eighth and 10th grades.

• School climate (10 percent): Attendance rates, student achievement among non-English-speaking and special education students, and survey results of staff, students and parents.

To account for the diversity of Clark County schools – urban and rural, magnet and comprehensive, affluent and poor student populations – disadvantaged schools were given a “multiplier” to make comparing schools fair.

Comprehensive high schools – open access schools that pull students from their attendance zone – received a 10 percent multiplier. Magnet schools – which serve students from their attendance zone as well as select students for technical programs – will receive a 5 percent multiplier.

All high schools could receive 5 “extra credit” points toward their score for meeting school-specific goals set by school administrators.

The high schools were then ranked, and rated from one to five stars. The top-performing five-star schools must score at least 80 points and meet the “adequate yearly progress” status under the federal No Child Left Behind.

The numerical scores for each school will not be made public, although school administrators will be allowed to view them and appeal their rankings between May 25 and June 25. Charter and alternative school rankings are expected to be released over the summer.

Of the 48 high schools in the district, there are 14 schools that achieved the five-star status this school year. Only three of these five-star schools are comprehensive high schools: Boulder City, Indian Springs and Moapa Valley – schools that have small student enrollments. The rest are magnet or Career and Technical Academies.

In fact, no large, urban comprehensive high school made the five-star list this year. However, four-star comprehensive high schools Green Valley and Coronado would be ranked five stars if the federal government grants Nevada's waiver application to No Child Left Behind, officials said.

By identifying schools’ rankings, the district can better focus on improving lower-performing schools by giving them additional support, such as first preference on hiring, officials said.

About 8,000 teachers – the majority from lower-performing schools – are scheduled to receive professional development (funded by federal Title 1 dollars) this summer, officials said. Further, principals and teachers from lower-performing schools can learn from the best practices in place at the five-star schools, officials said.

The new ranking system for high schools – part of the district’s School Performance Framework – has been in the works since the fall. A 36-member special advisory panel made up of seven teachers, six principals, two parents and other community members developed the ranking system, meeting once a month since the fall.

The School District also conducted four focus groups with about half of the high schools participating. Opinions from principals were sought and included in the rankings’ development, officials said.

Although the rankings will not be used to evaluate school administrator or teachers this school year, they were developed to comply with a new state law mandating academic achievement be used in teacher evaluations. The Teachers and Leaders Council is expected to release recommendations on forming a new teacher evaluation system in this summer. The new law goes into effect in July 2013.

Principals had mixed emotions about the new high school ranking system, but generally seemed to support it.

Liberty High School Principal Jeff Geihs – the president-elect of the administrators union – said the rankings were in the students and educators’ best interest because it is a transparent way for the public to hold the School District accountable. Liberty is a four-star school.

“We are 100 percent behind (the rankings),” he said, as students and principals held up signs that read, “We’re all in.”

Mojave High School Principal Antonio Rael said the rankings weren’t perfect but represented a great improvement over the previous “Annual Yearly Progress” measure, which penalized schools across the nation for not meeting increasingly difficult and exceedingly unattainable standards. Eventually, Nevada hopes to implement a similar school ranking system to replace No Child Left Behind's standards for improvement.

The leader of the North Las Vegas turnaround school – ranked one-star – said he was worried, however, that the rankings were not completely reflective of the unique challenges of a turnaround school. Mojave has one of the lowest test scores and graduation rates in the valley, and it will take time for the school to improve its score under this ranking system.

Rael said he liked how lower-performing schools will receive additional support but contends It is far easier for schools with more affluent students and the ability to select its students to reach that coveted five-star rating.

A number of five-star principals were treated to an indoor skydive this afternoon, courtesy of Vegas Indoor Skydiving. The School Board unanimously adopted the high school ranking system at its meeting Thursday night.

Rankings will be released annually in the late summer, before school starts. Next year’s rankings – using data collected from the 2011-12 school year – are expected to be released in August.

See an interactive list to find all the school rankings here.

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  1. OK Paul T., get a couple of research interns to work and correlate socio-economic census data to secondary school performance with perhaps a sidebar on NLV schools affected by the redistribution of NLV families from multi-family subsidized housing to Section 8 single family housing.

  2. Another waste of finances, for another useless program. Unless we change the expectations parents have for their children, and place the responsibility for education directly on the student nothing will change.

  3. Wharfrat you are correct that the socioeconomic status drives this data entirely.

  4. This ranking system appears to be fundamentally flawed, at least at the high school level. The only schools that are highly ranked are those schools in Las Vegas that only accept magnet kids - these schools do not accept regular neighborhood zoned kids. These students make the school appear as a five star school. I think this ranking system seems to only reflect what we already know about the students who attend the schools.

  5. someone should do an investigative piece on how these star ranking are manipulated by some schools. I have friends that are teachers that are afraid to speak on this issue for fear of losing their jobs. It's a sham.

  6. What a horrible system. There is a bigger incentive to do poorly than to do well. If a school doesn't do well then it gets more money and resources the next year. How holding people accountable for not doing their jobs instead of a star rating system?

  7. A good thing to look at would be match ratings to attendance and community involvement.

    I am betting all the 5 star schools have the best attendance.

    You cannot teach those that don't show up on time or at all.

  8. @vegaslee: It's more about the respective student bodies. Magnet schools and career/technical schools hand pick the students they take. Students who have gone to the trouble to prepare and apply for training in a particular skill (or are smart enough to enter the International Baccalaureate Program)are going to be more motivated than the students at your rank-and-file high school taking the bare necessities. Generally speaking, they are smarter and more proficient in reading and math. Small wonder that they lead the pack.

  9. "The numerical scores will not be made public." While there is always a risk that snippets of data will be taken out context there is really no substitute for transparency. All of the data should be released as well as administrators rationale for challenges to that data. You can't see any meaningful patterns unless you have every piece of the puzzle. CCSD seems to be working on a "trust us, we know best" model.

  10. I am all for the star ranking but we still have to pass the AYP of the Federal government. My other concern with the 5 start rating is that I do know that the rating for the Special Education Students incorporated into this program would not allow many of the schools to reach a 5 start rating. I question the 5 star rating when it comes to the Special Education Program.

  11. Back in 2004, the buzzword within the school district was the upcoming "WAVE" hitting schools and adversely affecting not only student performance rating, but creating more behavioral problems. When you have some 5,000 people moving into Clark County monthly for years, something's gotta give. In this case, population growth did NOT equal a better class of students.

    Principal Joe Caruso, of Cimarron-Memorial stated, "Despite the school's changing demographics, Cimarron-Memorial is determined to improve," while Principal Rael contends, "It is far easier for schools with more affluent students and the ability to select its students to reach that coveted five-star rating."

    Perhaps converting struggling schools into magnet schools will improve the situation. Focused coursework that engages a student's aspirations and career goals seems to be a more efficient use of money and resources. Now many teachers who have been working at low income, Title 1 schools, are transferring to more affluent or magnet schools out of fear.

    We may not be able to change students, their home support, or world events, but we can look at what we CAN change within all the givens within the district.

    Blessings and Peace,