Nevada education plan addresses woes of public schools
April 15, 2017
LAS VEGAS — Nevada is addressing the problems of its long-struggling public schools with a new education plan to lift them up.
The state is setting its sights on substantial improvements in student achievement over the next five years, particularly in graduation rates, English proficiency among non-native language learners and math.
"Those kids exist in our urban centers just as much as they exist in our really rural centers. We have kids slipping through the cracks in every district in the state," said Brett Barley, Nevada's deputy superintendent for student achievement.
The Nevada education department submitted to Washington this month the state's plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The federal education law requires states to have plans for evaluating school performance, including measures for both academics and school climate or student achievement.
The accountability plans will be used to identify those schools that need overall improvement and those that need targeted improvement aimed at specific groups of students. States have a great deal of flexibility in developing their plans, but the plans must be approved by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
The Nevada plan will continue to use major markers, like standardized test scores and graduation rates, to measure how well students are learning. New factors being weighed in the local star ratings system include the number of English learners who achieve proficiency in the language; how much progress students already behind academically make in covering the gaps; student engagement, including rates of chronic absenteeism; and college and career readiness.
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When it comes to readiness and engagement, Barley said the new accountability system will give incentives such as awarding star ratings points to schools that offer access to Advanced Placement classes. Four county-wide school districts have no students who participate in the coveted college-level coursework, he said.
"We had to recognize where we've been, and second, plan thoughtful strategies on where we need to go," Barley said.
By its estimation, the plan to increase academic proficiency across all student subgroups by at least 5 percent annually would make the Nevada education system the fastest improving in the nation. State officials pointed to Nevada's overall graduation rate as a bright spot, given that it has grown by double digits in the past five years to nearly 74 percent in 2016. The state's goal is for the graduation rate to hit 84 percent in the next five years.
But even if the state's targets are achieved, Nevada's public schools have a long way to go, statistics show. Only about a quarter of students learning English while under the state's watch actually become baseline proficient in the language central to all other academic instruction. The state wants to double that number in two years.
Nevada has also resolved to at least double the number of children proficient in math over the next five years. But with just 6.9 percent of English-language learners in middle school proficient in math as of 2016, the state's goal to increase that proficiency rate by more than four-fold to nearly 32 percent by 2022 means it would still leave two-thirds of students lagging behind in a core subject.
Officials said they are striving for attainable progress at public schools, not immediate perfection. Superintendent Steve Canavero declared in the state plan that the Nevada public education system needs fundamental change to address its chronically underperforming schools. Nationwide, Nevada has ranked last in a recent quality report, and it also has the lowest average ACT score among the states.
"Our plan offers an honest evaluation of the state of education in Nevada," Canavero wrote.