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Less than half of students meeting proficiency goals

Less than half of Nevada’s public school students are meeting proficiency requirements for math and reading.

County by county, results for the 2003-2004 school year were presented Tuesday to the Legislative Committee on Education by Gus Hill, Bill Thornton and Janet Usinger, all professors at the University of Nevada, Reno who have done the accountability report every year for nearly a decade.

“Almost everyone is hovering at or below 50 percent for third-grade reading and math,” said Committee Chairman Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno. “That, to me, is serious.”

“It is a problem,” Hill said.

He said the low scores on mandatory proficiency tests continued in the fifth grade as well, but improved somewhat by the eighth grade.

Eleven of Nevada’s 17 counties reported less than half of their third-graders passed reading proficiency tests and 13 counties reported that result in math tests. In fifth- grade testing, 10 districts were at or below 50 percent for reading and seven for math.

By eighth grade, only three counties were below 50 percent in reading but six were under 50 percent for math.

Raggio said it was “ominous” that only 44 percent of Clark County third-graders met proficiency requirements in math and reading.

Hill said preliminary test results from 2004-2005 show some improvement, but that he hadn’t had a chance to thoroughly analyze those numbers yet

Thornton said they believe the key to improving those numbers is each school’s principal and other administrators.

“One of the most important variables you have out there is the ability of instructional leaders,” he said.

He said strong instructional leaders set the stage for success by the teachers and, in turn, by the students.

But in many schools, he said, that’s not the case. Some principals, he said, are “caretakers just trying to hold the building together.”

“The issue in my opinion is the quality of the leadership at the building.”

Raggio questioned how to remedy the problem.

“How go you get rid of an ineffective principal?” he asked.

“I ain’t going there, coach,” Thornton replied.

But he told the panel much more effort should be focused on developing effective principals and other administrators.

Assemblyman Bob McCleary, D-Las Vegas, said too often teachers get blamed when students in a given school aren’t meeting educational goals.

“When I see a business failing, it’s not the employees’ fault, it’s the management,” he said, adding that there needs to be a way to remove bad principals.

Raggio and Sen. Bernice Mathews, D-Sparks, joined in that sentiment. Mathews said when a principal isn’t getting the job done, too often he or she is just moved to another school.

Thornton said another key is teaching schools how to develop better, more detailed school-improvement plans. Some of those plans aren’t effective, he said, because they deal with symptoms rather than root causes of problems. The weakest plans, he said, are those done by administrators “who simply looked at the plan as paperwork and did it.”

He said many teachers and administrators need help learning to analyze what’s good and what’s not in their school and in developing programs to fix those problems.

“The ability to use data varies vastly,” he said.

Then, he said, schools need to focus teacher and administrator training on those problems.

“Staff development should align with identified needs in the building.”

— Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.