Carson City School District’s Ricky Medina, director of accountability and assessment, constantly monitors testing data and indicators. He sees a backslide since COVID-19 mirroring national trends and it leads to a thought about helping Carson’s students and teachers.
“The (average test) scores, they were on this slightly upward trajectory, but we were back to what they were 30 years ago,” he told the Appeal about recent scores. “So that’s the million-dollar question: Do we bounce right back from that or does it take 30 years to get back to where we were before?”
Medina recently discussed the district’s one- and two-star ratings in the Nevada School Performance Framework Star Ratings and the implications of CCSD’s low-performing schools. For the district, it means distributing the resources it has among the schools with the greatest needs. But it’s not just about tethering financial solutions to the schools’ academic interventions to establish success, although legislators and administrators keep advocating for more dollars. Staff morale and creativity help students perform at their best, too.
“When I look at my role, there’s a fine line between holding them accountable and making sure they’re successful and then going to that other extreme where you just beat them up and saying they’re not doing a good job at all,” he said. “You’ve got to do a little of both.”
Medina refers to a Washington Post story in which student test scores nationally dropped for 13-year-olds, typically eighth graders, by 9 points in math and 4 points in reading, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found, referred to as “the nation’s report card.” NAEP measures student achievement in the K-12 system and determined the lowest-performing students were severely impacted in recent years, as were youth of different races and ethnicities.
These national outcomes generally are consistent with Nevada’s plummet in test scores within the past two to three years.
Students have missed important classroom instruction with their teachers, and it’s made a difference, Medina said. There’s also been a lack of any “consensual push” at the legislative level for education as a federal priority as it was during the early 2000s.
“When you think of it, No Child Left Behind was a bipartisan bill,” he said. “Right now, that’s not happening. It’s chaos (federally).”
Targeting student populations with the biggest needs is a priority, Medina told the Appeal. But possibly there’s an even bigger need to help the educators first, he said.
“I’d say they need a sense of vision of where we’re going,” he said. “Everyone was on the same page, we’re all moving toward the same vision in student achievement, as well as the site administrators. We’ve still got to graduate kids college- and career-ready. It’s going to be tough, and we recognize that some of our kids are behind, but that’s the target we need to get to.”
Getting parents and community members to support the schools’ efforts is equally important. Encouraging them to participate on school improvement teams and examining the data and understanding their students’ needs helps teachers and the staff members at all levels, he said.
And Medina said he thinks of those who have worked the hardest to perform.
“I would say our students have been through a lot,” he said. “I think about how teachers have had it bad. A lot of them know they’ve been struggling. I think that it’s our response as adults to figure out how to get them to be successful.”
It can be “heartbreaking,” for his part, to announce a star rating to a school’s administrators and teachers and it isn’t as high as expected.
“They’ve invested their lives into this,” he said. “It’s like anything. If you train for a race and you come in third place instead of first, it’s rough.”
And to encourage the current generation of teachers willing to do the job at all, while not impossible, is important.
“We have to go back to having some faith in our educators,” he told the Appeal. “I think it’s been tough the last couple of years. If I went back in time, if I was coming out of the college classroom today, I’m not sure I would want to be a teacher. It’s not the most popular profession right now and it’s even more difficult. There’s not as many teachers to pool from. There’s not as many teachers lifting the heavy load.
“And I would say the story is how they’re rallying together, how they’re pulling together at that site level to really identify what the needs are for their kids. I’ve seen a lot of innovation this year — administrators, teachers willing to try new things for their kids and they know it’s a challenge, something they need to overcome.
“We’re all in the same boat. We’re either all going to sink this boat or we’re going to rise to the occasion.”