Las Vegas Sun

October 9, 2015

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Clark County schools improve on No Child Left Behind benchmarks

Nevada transitioning from federal law to own accountability system

Sun coverage

For more than a decade, Nevada’s public schools were required to meet annual academic benchmarks set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

The goal was to improve every year until all American students became 100 percent proficient in math and reading by the 2013-14 school year.

It was a noble goal, but one that educators found soon enough to be unattainable. As testing standards were raised higher and higher each year, it became harder and harder for schools to meet the law’s “adequate yearly progress” measure.

As the years went by, more and more schools across the country were deemed “failing.”

In 2008-09, nearly 60 percent of Nevada public schools made “adequate yearly progress.” By 2010-11, just 45 percent of schools made the grade.

However, the Silver State reversed the downward spiral despite tougher standards.

Last school year, 49 percent of the state’s 688 public schools passed No Child Left Behind, which represents an increase of 4 percentage points. It was a remarkable improvement for a state that will soon replace No Child Left Behind with its own education accountability system by next school year.

Nevada’s rebound was fueled in large part by significant gains in the Clark County School District, which experienced increases in graduation rates and test scores last year.

Those improvements translated to a 3-percentage point increase in the number of Clark County schools making “adequate yearly progress” — from 40 percent in 2010-11 to 43 percent last school year.

Still, the fact remains that the majority of Nevada and Clark County schools are deemed “failing” by the federal government.

Last school year, Nevada schools were supposed to hit the benchmark of having 77 percent of students proficient in math and 76 percent of students proficient in reading.

Of the 368 schools in Clark County, just 156 (43 percent) met those targets, according to the most recent data released by the Clark County School District on Monday.

It’s difficult to meet these targets because, under No Child Left Behind, schools had to demonstrate achievement in all student subgroups. Failure to show improvement among any student group — even challenging ones such as English Language Learners or special education students — means that the entire school fails.

This all-or-nothing policy became a source of frustration for educators, who complained their students were making immense strides but still didn’t quite make the proficiency cuts.

However, Nevada recently received a waiver from the federal government, freeing it from the ever-rigorous No Child requirements. This waiver paves the way for Nevada to finish implementing a new system of accountability for schools.

“(Adequate yearly progress) was a train wreck for the whole country,” said Ken Turner, an education consultant who is trying to reform the Clark County School District. “We’re replacing it with something better.”

Nevada can keep its waiver as long as it adopts a statewide school rating system, develops a more-rigorous Common Core curriculum and implements a new teacher evaluation system that accounts for student performance.

Nevada will have to report "adequate yearly progress" for one more year until it meets these three requirements. But the state is well on its way.

Last year, the Clark County School District implemented a school rating system, which measures schools on a 100-point scale that largely hinges on students’ academic growth and proficiency scores.

Nevada will pilot a new teacher evaluation system by the end of this school year. The state is also entering its final year of a three-year rollout of the Common Core Standards, which will bring a new state standardized test that proponents argue will better evaluate students’ critical thinking skills.

Although No Child Left Behind’s “adequate yearly progress” will likely be a thing of the past, its focus on school accountability will endure in Nevada, Turner said.

“We believe raising the standards and ratcheting up expectations is just right,” he said. “We still know there’s a lot of work ahead — we’re still not faring the way we should be. But, along with Colorado, Nevada is leading the nation in improvements.”

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