The Clark County School District gave itself an "A" for its 2007-08 performance under federal standards, even though the number of schools needing improvement increased over the previous year and the number of schools showing improvement declined.
In 2007-08, 186 schools made adequate yearly progress under the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act, 32 fewer than in 2006-07 when 218 schools showed adequate yearly progress.
The number of schools on the state's watch list almost doubled, going from 35 in 2006-07 to 66 in 2007-08.
Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Lauren Kohut-Rost emphasized the rigor of the standards Thursday when the district released its annual report. Schools are judged by 37 separate targets. Falling short of just one target places a school on the watch list for failing to make adequate yearly progress.
As a whole, the district met 94 percent of 12,987 benchmarks and expects to qualify for a second consecutive year as a district showing adequate yearly progress.
"That's an A grade we're giving ourselves," Kohut-Rost said. "We're extremely proud of the Clark County School District for making AYP for the second year in a row. That's almost unheard of for a very large urban and very diverse school system. So we're incredibly proud of that."
Kohut-Rost said all schools showed some improvement over last year. Districtwide, minority groups and special needs students have made across-the-board progress since the No Child Left Behind program began in 2003. Students at all ability levels and grade levels also have made academic gains in the core subjects of math and reading since then, officials said.
In 2003, for example, 29.7 percent of elementary students qualifying for free and reduced lunches met their proficiency target in English language arts. In 2008, that number rose to 43 percent.
Another example: white high school students improved their math proficiency rate from 66 percent in 2003 to 85 percent in 2008.
The district did not fare so well in English language arts. The number of schools making adequate yearly progress in that area declined from 192 schools in 2007 to 179 schools in 2008.
The academic bar has been raised incrementally for schools over the years since the goal of No Child Left Behind is to have all students performing at grade level in math, reading and science by 2013-14. The percentage of district students required to show proficiency increased by 11 to 13 percent this year at most grade levels and in most subject areas.
It's also becoming harder for schools to distinguish themselves because the bar keeps getting raised. Just two schools, Walker International Elementary School and John Miller Elementary School, were exemplary this year while many other schools just missed the mark, officials explained. In 2006-07, 11 district schools were exemplary.
The Advanced Technology Academy, one of the district's highest performing schools, did not qualify as exemplary because 99.5 percent of its students were already proficient in English and language arts and 98 percent of its students were also proficient in math. The school lost a top ranking because it could not reduce the number of non-proficient students any further.
"So that's a flaw (in the ranking system)," Kohut-Rost said.
Schools also were judged by the performance of their students with disabilities. If they did not perform at the required proficiency levels, the school as a whole did not make adequate yearly progress.
East Region Superintendent Robert Alfaro said Eldorado High School just missed the mark for showing progress because six special education students did poorly on the standardized tests.
While Eldorado joins 16 other schools in the category of not showing improvement for the past five years, Alfaro said performance is on the rebound at Eldorado.
"If I was a gambling man, I would be putting my money on Eldorado" to make adequate yearly progress next year, Alfaro said.
Sanctions are placed on schools if they fail to make year-to-year progress, and escalate if failure runs to consecutive years.
The penalties can include requiring schools to come up with new academic plans, allowing students to transfer to new schools or firing administrators and reconstituting staff.
Kohut-Rost said the necessary measures were being taken at each of the schools that need improvement. Three middle schools -- Bridger, Von Tobel and West -- and Tate Elementary School were the district's worst performers for failing to show adequate progress for the past six years.
To get off the list, failing schools must show progress for two years in a row.
Rick Winget, principal of Fyfe Elementary, said his school lost its "needs improvement designation" this year.
"We were pretty much in the basement," Winget said, while praising the collaborative effort of students, staff and parents.
The school made an effort to help parents become tutors, he said.
"Parents want to help," Winget said. "They just need to know how."
Contact reporter James Haug at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-799-2922.