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June 26, 2017

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LOOKING IN ON: EDUCATION:

Official asks why all kids must take algebra

Audio Clip

  • Select students at Desert Pines High School put together rap-like lyrics and a base-induced beat to get students to attend proficiency testing.

Audio Clip

  • Desert Pines High School students persuade the student body to take proficiency tests with creative lyrics and an acoustic melody.

Some of the students who failed a new math test shouldn’t have been in the class in the first place, longtime educator Bill Hanlon told the Clark County School Board on Thursday.

Up until a few years ago, the only students who took algebra in high school were the ones planning to go to college, said Hanlon, who is director of the Regional Professional Development Center, set up by the Nevada Legislature to train teachers. Now, the School District requires all students to pass algebra, regardless of their individual circumstances.

That’s unrealistic for “special needs” students, said Hanlon, who helped write the test to measure students’ mastery of the semester’s material.

And then, Hanlon said, there are the students who simply don’t value education, “the offspring of parents that probably go to the ‘Jerry Springer Show.’ ”

His characterization drew a mix of gasps, snickers and dropped jaws from the audience.

The district’s curriculum office gave teachers a variety of resources to help them prepare students for the new end-of-semester test, including practice questions that mirrored the real thing. But of the high school students tested in Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and geometry, the failure rates ranged from 87 percent to 91 percent.

It now appears that some teachers (with the support of their administrators) focused on basic math facts, instead of following the more advanced curriculum. The goal was to help students catch up and be ready for the statewide proficiency exam.

That didn’t sit well with School Board member Sheila Moulton. And it has made her rethink a district pilot program that gives principals greater control over daily campus operations in exchange for stricter accountability.

“If we empower principals and teachers without some kind of direction, that’s scary to me,” Moulton said. “I want to do it because I believe a lot of people can be successful with it. But I’m also concerned that the leadership at the school level is not ready for that.”

• • •

To meet federal standards for adequate progress, schools must have at least 95 percent of eligible students take next week’s Nevada High School Proficiency Exam. Getting kids to show up can be challenging because they know they will have additional opportunities to pass before graduation.

At Desert Pines High School, Principal Timothy Stephens has gone to great lengths to ensure his school meets the 95 percent participation requirement. Last year, a student took the test from her hospital room, and others were tracked down at the county’s juvenile detention center.

For this year’s test, Stephens will have a caravan of volunteers on standby, ready to be dispatched to the homes of students who fail to show up on time.

“If we find ’em,” Stephens said with a grin, “we bring ’em in.”

• • •

Of the Clark County School District’s 206 elementary schools, 81 are run by principals with two years or less of experience. Of the 103 middle and high school principals, 40 haven’t held the job for more than two years.

With statistics like that, said Steve Augspurger, executive director of the district administrators union, why encourage seasoned leaders to quit?

Currently, all School District employees eligible for early retirement after 15 to 29 years of district employment if they have accrued at least 110 days of sick leave. Since 2005, about 125 employees have taken advantage of the program.

Facing a $63 million reduction in state funding, district staff wants to end an early retirement incentive program, which costs about $2 million annually. The School Board on Thursday delayed voting on the recommendation until April 10.

Instead of being cut, the program should be revised to reward people who stick around, Augspurger told the School Board.

The bottom of the eligibility scale could be raised to 20 or even 25 years, while the maximum threshold would jump as high as 36 years.

“It no longer makes sense,” Augspurger said, “to encourage your most experienced and mature employees to leave early.”

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