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October 2, 2014

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Education department doesn’t have money to meet lawmakers’ new test mandate

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

The assembly stands in recess on the first day of the 2013 legislative session Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 in Carson City.

The Nevada Education Department doesn’t have the money to administer a new state-mandated exam to high school juniors next year, so it plans to raise the funds through private donations and grants.

In their 2013 session, state lawmakers passed a new law that mandated high school students take a “college and career-readiness” exam during their junior year.

Students won’t need to post a certain score on the exam to graduate. High schools are planning to use the results to determine if students should be placed in remedial or advanced-placement classes during their senior year. That way, schools can better prepare students for college or a career.

The Legislature left it to the Nevada Board of Education to develop or purchase the exam. State school board members are leaning toward choosing one of the two common college-entrance exams: the ACT or SAT.

Educators like the ACT or SAT because students can use the exam results to apply to colleges and scholarships. The ACT and SAT are also well known to employers and can help students land their first job.

However, it would be expensive to administer the ACT or SAT to more than 35,000 juniors across Nevada.

The ACT would cost the state $2.4 million. The SAT would cost $1.8 million.

The Legislature didn't appropriate additional money for its requirement under the assumption that the state’s education department could pay for the exam using current funds for testing.

However, the state is instituting several new exams next year: computer-based exams in elementary and middle schools, and end-of-course exams in high school that are aligned to more rigorous academic standards.

As a result, there is no money to pay for a college and career-readiness exam next year, Superintendent Dale Erquiaga told state school board members today.

“We have looked under every couch cushion,” Erquiaga said. “There is no revenue budgeted to pay for this assessment.”

After some discussion, state school board members directed Erquiaga to try to raise at least $2 million in private donations or grants to fulfill the Legislature’s unfunded mandate. Erquiaga said he also would try to negotiate lower test fees from the testmakers.

Erquiaga and state school board members have until the end of May to raise the $2 million so that the exam will be ready in time for next year.

The problem should be temporary, Erquiaga said. Next year, the education department plans to lobby the Legislature for more funding to administer the test, he said.

“This is a one-year stop-gap,” Erquiaga said of the unique fundraising effort.

If Erquiaga and state school board members fail to raise sufficient funds, there are cheaper college and career-readiness exams they could select. Such options aren’t as well-known and won’t be as helpful to students applying to colleges.

“This is an opportunity to offer every junior in Nevada an exam that gives them currency with colleges,” said Allison Serafin, state school board vice president. “We can’t let financials drive the decision around this test.”

Erquiaga agreed.

“We owe it to the kids to give them a test that means something to their future,” he said.

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