Not one of Clark County's 357 public schools was a "low performer" last year, earning the bottom ranking of one star.
But 91 schools earned the highest possible five stars, a huge increase from the 51 schools awarded top honors last year, according to results released Thursday from the district's self-created replacement for the federal No Child Left Behind accountability act.
If it sounds too good to be true, that's because it is. Clark County School District officials didn't explain Thursday when releasing the results that this year's rankings are skewed in favor of schools that actually worsened.
The new accountability system is the primary measure of school success, but it's also misleading. Schools moved up the ladder and earned more stars if they improved in 2011-12, but no schools lost stars if they lost ground.
"That's unbelievably deceiving to parents and the public," said Victor Joecks, spokesman for the conservative think tank Nevada Policy Research Institute.
He described the district's School Performance Framework and its star ratings as "very sketchy."
"There certainly are questions here," Joecks said.
If district officials hadn't enacted the new rule, only 72 schools, not 91, would have earned five stars, based mostly on student performance in 2011-12. Six low-performing schools would have gotten just one star.
District officials announced the rankings at the Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix before principals at five-star schools took a lap in celebration.
In a statement, Superintendent Dwight Jones lauded the district's new school-grading system, in its second year, as a "fair and equitable way" to document the district's progress.
Jones was ill Thursday and couldn't be reached for additional comment.
But is the system credible if improved performance is recognized and declines are discounted?
"I think that's a fair question," said Ken Turner, assistant to the superintendent, who was key in creating the ranking system.
The reason that the district didn't hold schools accountable for declines this year is because the system is still in flux, said Turner and Leslie Arnold, assistant superintendent of assessment, accountability, research and school improvement.
With kinks to be worked out, the district decided to make 2011-12 a "hold harmless" year, where schools wouldn't be penalized for declining scores.
"It's a new system," Arnold said. "We don't know where the flaws are yet."
No changes were made to the fledgling assessment system between year one and two, Turner said.
But the bottom line is that the district released a list of 91 five-star schools and no one-star schools. The public will take that at face value as a tremendous improvement when that's not the case, Joecks said.
"I'm pleased to announce we've seen growth," Deputy Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said at Thursday morning's news conference.
And that's not wrong. Even when the hold harmless rule isn't applied, schools did better. The improvements just aren't as dramatic. Compared with the previous year, 27 more schools would have earned three stars or better, increasing from 227 schools to 254 schools.
With the rule, 277 schools earned three or more stars.
At the top, Kim Elementary School in the southwest valley is one of the 72 schools that earned five stars and would have even without the rule.
It made the leap from four stars with a little incentive for students.
Principal Barbara Misday vowed to take a pie in the face for every student who earned a perfect score on the state tests in reading or math. Surrounded by 550 students chanting "In the face!" she lived up to her word Thursday on the playground.
"How many of you like my outfit?" she said while grabbing at the black trash bag shielding her.
A shower cap covered all her hair except her bangs. She topped the cap with a star-studded tiara.
"We asked you to go for what?" she asked like a coach at a pep rally.
"GOLD!" the students yelled.
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.