Nevada hopes to capitalize on new flexibility in federal education act | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada hopes to capitalize on new flexibility in federal education act

Nevada’s superintendent of education says he hopes the state can capitalize on the federal government’s new willingness to give states more flexibility in applying the No Child Left Behind Act.

The tough rules defining the annual yearly progress students must make has been a bone of contention between officials in all states and the U.S. Department of Education. If even one group of students in a school fails to pass the required competency tests, that school is declared as failing to meet annual yearly progress goals. Because those rules apply to disabled students and those who are not native English speakers, Superintendent Keith Rheault said many states now have more than half their schools listed as failing to meet standards.

And the federal law eventually imposes financial penalties on those schools as well as allowing parents to move their children to other, more successful schools.

In Nevada, Rheault said, 52 percent of public schools are failing to meet yearly progress requirements.

But Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told superintendents last week she will let as many as 10 states try “growth models” instead of test scores to determine whether they are making the grade.

“That was something we were asking for way back on our original application when No Child Left Behind came out,” Rheault said. “We thought it was more fair to look at how each student grows rather than take a group of test scores from a class.”

Under existing rules, he said if a student in fifth-grade can’t pass that grade’s test, he’s listed as failing to make required progress.

“That never took into account the student may have come into the state reading at a second-grade level and how reads almost at fifth,” he said. “It never took into account that they were making progress. This will allow us to show how much growth they have made in the past year even if they aren’t up to grade yet.”

“It’s kind of the first crack in the armor that there may be better ways to measure school improvement,” he said.

And, he said, Nevada will be applying for permission to use a “growth model” before the Feb. 17 deadline.

“If approved, we would be allowed to use a growth model for this next year’s annual yearly progress results,” he said.

He said Nevada’s only problem in convincing the federal agency might be that the state just this year began testing grades four, six and seven.

“In their guidance letter, they pretty much say we have to have two full years of testing all the grades required by law because, how can you measure growth if you haven’t done it at least two years,” he said.

But he said Nevada has growth measurements for all the other grades and is closer to meeting the other requirements set in the federal act than many other states. He said the state can make a good case.

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