Nevada students score poorly on Nation's Report Card

A national assessment shows Nevada students fell short of the national average in math and reading despite the unprecedented efforts of the Silver State’s predominant district, Clark County, to assist failing students and hire reform-minded leadership.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education released the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress — also called the Nation’s Report Card – given this year to 719,000 students in fourth and eighth grades, which are seen as educational milestone years. Students can score in a range of 0 to 500, with a scale score of 250 equaling a 50 percent score.

For the sampling of Nevada fourth-graders tested, the average score was 236, or 47 percent, in math and 214, or 43 percent, in reading. In both subjects, Silver State fourth-graders placed seventh-worst among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools. For eighth-graders, the average score was 278, or 56 percent, in math and 262, or 52 percent, in reading, putting the state ninth and 11th from the bottom, respectively.

The reading test asked students to read passages and recall details or interpret them. In math, fourth-graders were asked about measurements and basic calculations, while eighth-graders were also asked about geometry and algebra.

All four of Nevada’s average scores fell short of the national average, a dubious showing made only by the Silver State, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga said, “Overall, I am pleased” with the state’s report. He pointed to the average reading score of eighth-graders, which increased from 258 out of 500 possible points in 2011, to 262 this year, a four-point improvement.

However, Nevada’s average scores in math fell a point for fourth-graders and were unchanged for eighth-graders. The fourth-grade reading score improved by just one point.

The majority of Nevada students are below grade level in their skills. Among fourth-graders, 34 percent could do grade-level math and 27 percent read at grade level. Among eighth-graders, 28 percent could do grade-level math and 30 percent read at grade level.

“We are not making the gains I’d like to see,” said Erquiaga, adding that he expects improvements in 2015 as the state implements changes to its teaching standards, testing, and evaluations of teachers and school administrators.

Clark County School District officials, who oversee the education of three-quarters of Nevada students, expected to see improved scores this year.

“These weren’t the results we’d like to see,” Clark County Deputy Superintendent Kim Wooden said.

When the previous Report Card was released in 2011, former Deputy Superintendent Pedro Martinez talked of unprecedented efforts that would make a difference in the district.

The district knows its students are “struggling,” Martinez said at the time. For that reason, the district launched an unprecedented program for the 43,000 students in third through eighth grades performing below grade level. The intervention in 2011 and 2012 included individual meetings with students and parents to enact individualized catch-up plans.

“We’ve never done anything at this scale,” Martinez said at the time.

This program is still in operation, Wooden said Thursday.

“It’s too early to change course,” she said, emphasizing that the program and others need time to have an effect.

However, other efforts to improve student performance have recently been abandoned because of lackluster results, she said.

“My big focus here is on results,” she said.

And there wasn’t much of that to be found in the time between the 2011 and 2013 releases of the Nation’s Report Card. During that time, Education in Nevada has been anything but stable. Martinez resigned the same school year as the 2011 Report Card, just one year into the job. He became superintendent of the Washoe County School District, the second-largest in the state with 62,000 students, compared to Clark County’s 315,000 students.

Dwight Jones, the reform-minded superintendent that the Clark County School Board hired in late 2010 for a $358,000 annual compensation package, abruptly quit in March, just halfway through his four-year contract.

Another reform-minded superintendent, Jim Guthrie, was chosen by Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2012 to make drastic changes at the state level. But Guthrie resigned in March, before the end of his first year on the job, under pressure from the governor.

“I can say I’m not surprised by the results” of the Nation’s Report Card, Wooden said.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.