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Number of top-rated schools down as standards rise

Updated Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 | 2:30 p.m.

More than a quarter of Clark County public schools’ star ratings fell over the past two years, but state officials say that’s because standardized tests are getting more difficult.

How Clark County schools fared

Five stars: 53 schools (15.7 percent)

Four stars: 45 schools (13.4 percent)

Three stars: 158 schools (46.9 percent)

Two stars: 75 schools (22.3 percent)

One star: 6 schools (1.8 percent)

Biggest increases in star ratings

• Cartwright Elementary School (two stars)

• David Cox Elementary School (two stars)

• Dooley Elementary School (two stars)

• Explore Knowledge Elementary School (two stars)

• Piggott Elementary School (two stars)

• Brown Middle School (two stars)

Biggest decreases in star ratings

• Kelly Elementary School (three stars)

• Gilbert Elementary school (two stars)

• Hayden Elementary School (two stars)

• Hayes Elementary School (two stars)

• Hewetson Elementary School (two stars)

• Katz Elementary School (two stars)

• Lynch Elementary School (two stars)

• Sandy Miller Elementary School (two stars)

• O’Roarke Elementary School (two stars)

• Park Elementary School (two stars)

• Helen Smith Elementary School (two stars)

• Stanford Elementary School (two stars)

• Tarr Elementary School (two stars)

• Innovations Middle School (two stars)

The state Department of Education today unveiled new school accountability reports on 604 Nevada schools for the 2012-13 school year. Each school was given a rating from a low-performing one star to a high-performing five stars based largely on standardized test scores.

Eighty-seven Clark County schools — including 13 top-performing, five-star schools — saw their ratings fall between the 2011-12 and the 2012-13 school years.

Although the majority of these downgraded schools dropped by one star, 13 schools dropped by two stars and one school — Kelly Elementary School — dropped by three stars.

Nearly two-thirds of Clark County schools saw no change in their ratings. Only 41 schools, representing 12 percent of Clark County’s 335 rated schools, saw their ratings go up by one or two stars.

This was the grim news shared by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga, who started his new position less than a month ago. Erquiaga, in a video conference from Carson City, said the new school ratings should spur school districts to work harder to help students meet ever-increasing academic standards.

“We are expecting more from students,” Erquiaga said.

Nevada has more “high-performing” three-, four- and five-star schools than “low-performing” one- and two-star schools, Erquiaga said. About three-quarters of Nevada public schools scored an acceptable three, four or five stars.

“That was a surprise to me,” Erquiaga said. “We still have pockets of excellence in Nevada that we don’t talk about enough.”

However, to get a three-star rating, a school needs to score just 50 points out of a possible 100. A school only needs to score 77 points or higher to get the top, five-star rating.

Typically, a student who scores 50 points out of 100 on a school test is given an “F” grade. A student who scores 70 points on a test is given a “C.”

Nevertheless, Erquiaga defended the state’s school rating system, which takes into account a combination of factors, including standardized test scores in math, science, reading and writing; academic improvement from year to year; academic performance of historically disadvantaged students; graduation rates and average daily attendance.

“We are in the perfect storm of education reform,” Erquiaga said. “We are at an unprecedented place to use data to impact student achievement.”

In Clark County, most of the decline in star ratings occurred at the elementary school level. About a third of elementary schools — 74 campuses — saw their star ratings fall.

The bulk of the increase in star ratings occurred at the middle school level. Eleven schools, representing 17 percent of Clark County middle schools, saw their star ratings go up by one or two stars.

Not much changed at the high school level. The majority of high schools — 81 percent — saw no change in their star ratings. Six high schools increased their star ratings; four schools went down.

Clark County Schools Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said there are two reasons 26 percent of Las Vegas Valley schools saw a decrease in their star ratings.

First, the state increased the “cut score,” or the passing score, for middle and high school math tests. Last school year, students had to score at least 300 points to pass the math section; before, they only needed to score 242 points, both out of a possible 500 points.

Proficiency scores count for 40 percent of the state’s star ratings.

Second, while some elementary students were deemed proficient, they did not improve as much from the previous year. Student growth counts for 30 percent of the state’s star ratings.

“The state is raising the academic bar in Nevada, and that’s a good thing,” Skorkowsky said. “But anytime you have new assessments, you worry about an implementation dip. We need to focus on what we can do to prevent that.”

Both Erquiaga and Skorkowsky said they expect the number of top-performing schools to decline over the next several years as academic standards are raised. Nevada is one of 45 states nationally that adopted the more rigorous Common Core State Standards.

“We are working as a district to implement the more difficult Common Core State Standards that will prepare our students to reach higher benchmarks set by the state,” Skorkowsky said.

The list of schools and their ratings is available here.

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