September 4, 2018 - 2:09 pm
Updated September 4, 2018 - 9:45 pm
Nevada’s students are getting more proficient in English and math in statewide exams, preliminary testing data released Tuesday show, but the state is falling short of the education goals that leaders set for themselves.
In every category but one, Nevada students in third through eighth grades who took the English language arts or math exams in the spring increased their proficiency rates. The lone exception was seventh-grade English results, which slipped slightly.
The Clark County School District also released its standalone versions of the data, two weeks ahead of the full release of testing results. Clark’s results largely mirror the state results, including upticks in every category except seventh-grade English.
“The improvement in both math and English language arts once again demonstrates that Nevada is on course to become the fastest-improving state in the nation,” Steve Canavero, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement accompanying the release. “I believe that the funding priorities set forth by Gov. Brian Sandoval and our Legislature during the past two sessions are beginning to bear fruit.”
Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara said the positive gains statewide show that investing in the system works and that continuing to do so can yield even greater results.
“This is why I’m committed to working with the Legislature to increase the funding to improve our working conditions for our employees,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday. “Looking at the possibility, if we lower class size, I think CCSD will continue going forward to becoming the No. 1 district for kids.”
The state aims to become the “fastest-improving state in the nation,” an ambitious goal set forward in the state’s plan for education required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, a new federal law.
But the data released Tuesday don’t meet the targets set in the plan, which was approved by the federal Department of Education in August 2017.
Nevada is using a number of different measurements to establish itself as the fastest-improving state, including the proficiency rates on the Smarter Balanced exams released Tuesday.
The long-term proficiency goals in English and math, which state leaders intend to reach by the 2021-22 school year, are 61 percent and 41 percent, respectively. But the plan includes milestones each year before that.
The goals for 2017-18 are 54 percent in English and 37 percent in math, according to the plan.
No grade level comes close to the goal for English, and the average proficiency in all grades was 47.27 percent.
The state is closer to reaching the math goal. Grades three and four topped the 37 percent proficiency threshold, but the average math proficiency rate of all six grade levels was 36.42 percent.
Canavero, who was traveling Tuesday, was unavailable to comment on the targets, but department spokesman Greg Bortolin said the data provide a “snapshot” of where Nevada is today.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that we are improving,” he said. “(The Every Student Succeeds Act) is a five-year plan, and at the end of that period we believe we will be closer to our goal.”
Jara said he’s all for lofty goals, which he calls “reach goals.”
“I think if you set your goals a little too low and you meet them, then you never know how much your kids can achieve,” he said.
The data show a wide variety, with ranges from a 0.12 percentage point drop in seventh-grade English proficiency, from 47.07 to 46.95 percent, to a 12.07 percentage point increase in eighth-grade math proficiency, from 17.5 to 29.57 percent.
To have systemwide increases is rare in a good way, said Gregory Cizek, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s school of education who looked at the results at the Review-Journal’s request.
“What we often expect on the measure is some up, some down, some bigger, some smaller. That’s what you normally see in a stable system,” he said. “You don’t have a stable system in all the best ways. When I look at these results, I think this is a home run, I really do.”
Despite the gains, fewer than half the students tested are actually considered proficient in almost every category measured by the Smarter Balanced exams. Only in fifth-grade math are more than half the students considered proficient, with 50.33 percent meeting the threshold.
The eighth-grade math improvement is partially attributable to a change in how the state handles high-achieving eight-grade students.
Previously, those eighth-graders took a high-school-level math course while still in middle school, then completed the corresponding high school end-of-course exam. But the state has done away with those exams, meaning those eighth-graders instead took the eighth-grade Smarter Balanced exam last year.
It’s unclear how much of the 12 percentage point increase is attributable to that change.