LAS VEGAS -- Minorities now are the student majority in kindergarten through ninth grade in the Clark County School District.
It's a demographic that school district officials are keenly aware of as they prepare to meet the terms of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The 2001 education act calls for all students to be academically proficient by the year 2013, a mandate that will require elimination of historical achievement gaps between different student ethnic groups in public schools.
"It's the biggest challenge that we face," Superintendent Carlos Garcia said Friday.
In 2000, the district reported that, for the first time, the majority of students in Clark County public schools were minorities. The district's November enrollment figures show it now serves 255,838 students, 54 percent of whom are minorities.
The ethnic shift in Clark County has been evident for some time. In 1985, Hispanics accounted for 7.2 percent of the district's enrollment. Today, Hispanics are the fastest growing population in district schools and represent 32 percent of student enrollment.
The number of Asian students also is growing, although at a much slower rate than Hispanics. Asians accounted for 3.4 percent of district students in 1985. This year, 7.5 percent of district students are of Asian descent. The percentage of black students in the district has declined slightly, from 15.3 percent in 1985 to 14 percent this year.
Tests used to measure student progress and mastery of state standards consistently show that all groups do not achieve equally. In testing last spring of third- and fifth-graders to assess how well they know materials required by Nevada standards, there were wide achievement gaps.
In third-grade reading, 62 percent of white students and 62 percent of Asian students were proficient, but only 38 percent of black students and 34 percent of Hispanic students were proficient.
Garcia acknowledged that much work needs to be done. Part of his plan to improve student performance is to ensure that all third-graders read at grade level.
"That's one of the reasons for the iNVest Plan (Investing in Nevada's Education, Students and Teachers)," Garcia said of an $879 million funding proposal that state school superintendents will lobby for in the next legislative session, which begins in February.
"No Child Left Behind says all children will learn, but it doesn't provide the resources to get them there. We have to have the resources to make our kids successful."
Paul Garbiso, assistant superintendent for the district's East Region, said schools will need to tailor their improvement plans around the particular needs of students.
"We aren't going to see achievement gains overnight," Garbiso said. "It's going to take four or five years."