Clark County schools’ No Child Left Behind performance hits record low

Less than a third of Clark County schools made the grade under No Child Left Behind in the 2011-12 academic year, marking a new low for the country’s fifth-largest district.

Although a record low, the decline in local schools meeting federal requirements is nothing new.

In 2008-09, 190 schools passed No Child Left Behind. It was 151 schools the next year, then 139 schools. Now, 118 out of 385 schools, including charters, made it over the federal bar, which has been raised every year, making catch-up even harder.

"For that reason, it’s not a surprise," said School Board President Linda Young, noting that the results provide valuable information though she considers the grading system "unfair."

Only a third of elementary students needed to score at grade level in math for a school to meet No Child Left Behind standards in its first year, 2002-03. But requirements have gradually increased to 100 percent of students demonstrating proficiency in math, reading and English by 2013-14.

No school can achieve that, Young said, repeating an oft-made criticism of No Child Left Behind. Schools across the country are on the same downward trend as the requirement approaches 100 percent, she said.

"As you can see across the United States, it seems to not be working," she said.

In Nevada, 49 percent of schools passed No Child Left Behind last school year.

Another problem is the method used to determine "Adequate Yearly Progress," Young said.

The district as a whole showed adequate progress in 2009-10 though 58 percent of its schools failed. That’s because a district passes if a majority of elementary, middle or high schools pass. Only high schools made the cut in 2009-10.

In this latest report, 29 percent of elementary schools passed, slightly better than middle schools at 23 percent. High schools did best, with 45 percent meeting requirements. Charter schools didn’t do much better than traditionally operated public schools. Six of Clark County’s 13 charter schools passed.

But dissecting the results of No Child Left Behind is moot.

Clark County and Nevada schools won’t be subject to No Child Left Behind anymore. Starting this school year, Nevada and 32 other states have a pass from the highly criticized federal system and will instead grade schools using their own systems approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

Nevada’s requirements are a departure from No Child Left Behind’s pass/fail system and use a 100-point "index" system for measuring student performance. The index is key in the state’s new system of ranking schools from one to five stars, which the Clark County School District started last school year.

The index also accounts for half of a teacher’s evaluation. The new method of evaluating teachers will be piloted this school year.

The 100-point index will be based on students’ academic growth; number of students at grade level; reductions in gaps between commonly struggling students, including those living in poverty and those who speak English as a second language; and student engagement.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the waiver "a big step in the right direction" for Nevada in implementing more rigorous standards.

While No Child Left Behind focused on whether students scored at grade level and called for all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014, Nevada’s new system evaluates student-by-student progress.

"The community asked us for a system of accountability that was not one size fits all," said Clark County School Superintendent Dwight Jones, whose district serves about 308,000 of the state’s 430,000 students.

Despite differences between the two systems, most of the Clark County schools that passed No Child Left Behind also scored well in Nevada’s system of awarding one star to the worst schools and five stars to the best. All 14 of the five-star high schools passed No Child Left Behind. For elementary schools, 27 of the 37 five-star schools did so.

The new system also parallels No Child Left Behind in one way. The state has set a new bar that requires the percentage of students with grade-level skills to increase from 50 percent to 90 percent by the 2016-17 school year. To get there, it has adopted a new curriculum, Common Core Standards, used by all but a few states.

Nevada will abandon the state’s standardized tests – the primary indicator in No Child Left Behind – for new tests based on the Common Core Standards. The new tests will be piloted in 2013-14 and implemented the next school year.

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