Nevada Board of Education debates proficiency exams
April 15, 2003
Editor’s note: The following article is being reprinted because a portion was inadvertently omitted from Monday’s edition.
LAS VEGAS — The legislative divide over the state-required proficiency exam for high school students also exists on the Nevada Board of Education.
Board members responded Saturday to the recent passage of Assembly Bill 179 by the Assembly Education Committee, which would create a tiered system of diplomas and eliminate the test as a diploma requirement.
Those who pass the exam would receive a diploma reflecting that achievement. Other students who earn their credits but fail the test would receive a general diploma.
State board member Marcia Washington said that would alleviate the problem faced by students every year. Those who fail the proficiency test are given a certificate of attendance at graduation instead of a diploma.
“You can’t get a job with a certificate of attendance,” Washington said. “You can’t join the military with a certificate of attendance.”
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The bill, passed Wednesday by the Assembly Education Committee, is what the board has been looking for to help students who can’t pass the test, Washington said.
The bill does not appear to have a future though. Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, called it a “step backward” and said it would find no support in the Senate.
Board of Education President Gary Waters said he also opposed creation of different classes of diploma because it would create different classes of students. He said the proficiency test gives value to the diploma earned by Nevada public school graduates.
“The public may see the general diploma as a lesser diploma than a proficiency diploma,” Waters said.
Waters also was concerned that the plan might lead to local school officials sorting students into different diploma tracks by the time they reach high school. And what happens if certain student populations start showing up in higher rates in the lesser diploma category, Waters asked.
“The state board has no control in such scenarios,” Waters said. “I would not support a tiered diploma program, because I don’t trust that it would be used appropriately.”
The proficiency exam is a long-standing requirement in Nevada, but the difficulty of the test increased significantly under the 1997 Nevada Education Reform Act. The high-stakes test requires students to demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing and math. Students have multiple chances to take the test, beginning in the spring of their sophomore year.
Board member Merv Iverson said the test also serves as a way to hold educators accountable.
“I think it’s a mistake to all of the sudden eliminate the proficiency as a standard of expectations for students,” Iverson said.
Washington reminded board members to consider students who struggle and those who might be poor test-takers.
“I wonder if this state is ever going to get to a 100 percent graduation rate,” Washington said. “Having a tiered diploma might assist us in doing that.”