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December 1, 2021

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Report ranks Clark County among last in high school graduation rates

Dwight Jones

Dwight Jones

A detailed analysis in a story in Education Week, raises further questions about the accuracy of previously reported high school graduation rates for the Clark County and Washoe County school districts, which are responsible for educating 85 percent of the state's public school students.

The Education Week numbers produced with the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center show that Nevada’s high school graduation rate was 44.3 percent for the academic year ending in 2008. That placed it 50th in the country, just behind of the District of Columbia, which recorded a 43 percent graduation rate.

New Jersey led the nation with an 86.9 percent graduation rate, followed by Vermont at 82.7 percent and Wisconsin with a rate of 81.3. The national average was 71.7 percent.

The Clark County School District lists its 2008 high school graduation rate at 65 percent, according to data found on its website. The Washoe County School District places its 2008 high school graduation rate at 56 percent, according to a report on its website.

The Education Week article notes that the 71.7 percent national average in 2008 was the highest figure since the mid-1980s and followed two consecutive years of decline and stagnation, and it offered a troublesome note for Nevadans.

“The 44-percentage-point chasm separating the highest- and lowest-performing states remains alarming,” the story says. “The national leaders — New Jersey, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin — each graduate more than 80 percent of their high school students. At the other extreme of the rankings, fewer than six in 10 students finish high school in the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, and South Carolina. Overall, graduation rates in about half the states fall within 5 points of the national average of 72 percent.”

Long-stated doubts about the accuracy of the Clark County figures have been a point of public frustration for the district’s new superintendent, Dwight Jones, who assumed the job in November and is in the process of adopting a revised methodology that would have placed the school district’s previously reported June 2009 high school graduation rate at 51 percent rather than the previously reported 68 percent.

Jones has publicly expressed his frustrations with the reported numbers, saying that district officials must be open and transparent about the numbers before taxpayers, business and political leaders will support the district’s needs.

Clark County public school administrators have previously discounted from the graduation figures tens of thousands of students who disappeared from the region’s high schools between the 9th and 12th grades. Top officials routinely argued that an unknown, untraceable number of students were lost to transient families that moved in and out of the region and argued that the district had no way of determining what percentage of those students dropped out of school rather than transferring to schools elsewhere in the country.

The new graduation rate is designed to account for the number of students who start the 9th grade with the Clark County School District and finish within four years with a high school diploma rather than a less stringent certificate of attendance. The formula is intended to accurately account for students who transfer in and out of the school system during that period. The Education Week analysis employs a similar formula.

Pedro Martinez, the Clark County School District’s newly hired deputy superintendent of instruction, says just 10 of every 100 students who start the 9th grade within the school district will receive a college bachelor’s degree. That is about half of the national average, and the Southern Nevada figure is lower for ethnic minority students.

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