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August 29, 2015

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Nevada High School Proficiency Exam likely out for students in Class of 2016 and beyond

Clark County School Board briefed on changes in state law

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Leila Navidi

Boys line up backstage during the Chaparral High School commencement ceremony at the Orleans Arena on Friday, June 15, 2012.

Updated Wednesday, June 5, 2013 | 5:55 p.m.

Science Proficiency Tutoring at Chaparral

Science teacher Sergio Lopez leads a science proficiency exam tutoring session for seniors at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas on Monday, April 23, 2012. Seniors have one more chance this school year to pass the proficiency exams, which are mandatory for graduation. Launch slideshow »

The dreaded high school proficiency exams are being phased out, pending Gov. Brian Sandoval's expected signature.

Starting in the 2014-15 school year, thousands of high school sophomores, juniors and seniors no longer will have to take the Nevada High School Proficiency Exam.

Instead, students will be required to take a college readiness exam and four end-of-course exams to graduate.

Joyce Haldeman, Clark County Schools associate superintendent, on Wednesday relayed these new changes to School Board members.

Earlier this week, state lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 288, which will dramatically change the high school graduation requirements for students in Nevada's 17 school districts.

The testing changes come amid a national push to increase classroom rigor, one that many educators say will help prepare more students for college.

Nevada is one of 45 states that has adopted the Common Core State Standards, a set of more rigorous academic goals for public schools. As part of the transition to the Common Core standards, Nevada is revamping its curricula and tests to measure how well students are meeting these new goals.

As a result, the High School Proficiency Exam will be phased out by the time members of the Class of 2016 — students who are freshmen this year — are ready to graduate. The proficiency exam is not aligned with the new Common Core.

Replacing it will be four end-of-course exams, two in math and two in English. Students must pass all four end-of-term exams to graduate.

Nevada is modeling its end-of-course exams after states like New York, which mandates that students pass the "regents" exams to receive their diploma.

Proponents argue taking these exams immediately after completing the course will help improve students' passing rate. Students are more likely to retain the information the sooner the test is administered, proponents said.

Although the High School Proficiency Exam was a major barrier to graduation for many struggling Nevada students, these new end-of-course exams will still be "difficult and strenuous" for students, Haldeman said.

"These end-of-course exams won't be a walk in the park," Haldeman said. "We may see yet another decrease in the graduation rate. We need to be preparing our students in middle school and even younger."

The new state law also requires that students take a College and Career Readiness exam during their junior year. Students won't have to pass this exam — just take it.

The idea behind this diagnostic exam is to help students determine if they are college- or career-ready. Teachers also may use the test results to set special course schedules.

If a student struggles on the test, a counselor may place the student in remedial classes during senior year. If a student aces the test, a counselor may put the student in Advanced Placement courses.

The Nevada School Board of Education must determine details for the new tests: passing scores, testing vendors and procedures for perhaps a new computerized test.

Board members are expected to choose among college entrance exams the ACT and SAT, as well as a computerized exam being developed by Smarter Balanced, a Common Core testing consortium. Members may also consider exams developed by traditional test publishers, such as Pearson.

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