Elementary schools in Nevada’s two largest school districts, in Clark and Washoe counties, perform at similar levels, but middle schools in Southern Nevada lag behind their northern counterparts.
That’s according to an analysis by the Review-Journal on the star ratings the state will issue Dec. 15. The Review-Journal was able to assign star ratings for every elementary and middle school in Nevada ahead of the official rankings based on publicly available information released by the state Department of Education.
Schools are assigned a rating of one through five stars based on how they perform on a number of factors, including student scores on state-mandated tests. A one-star school is performing poorly, while a five-star school is a high achiever. The stars serve as quick way for parents and communities to judge their schools.
They also can be used to compare districts.
In Washoe County, for example, 42 percent of the county’s 19 middle schools will receive four- or five-star ratings, compared with only 26 percent of Clark County’s 66 middle schools.
That’s a significant difference, considering that elementary schools in the two counties stack up identically, with 36 percent of elementary schools in each — 67 in Washoe County and 218 in Clark County — earning four or five stars.
Clark vs. Washoe
Size and demographic differences argue against direct comparisons of schools in the two counties, said Mike Barton, CCSD’s chief academic officer. The state counts both districts as urban, but CCSD has a far larger student population and a much higher percentage of at-risk students.
“It’s tough to make that comparison, but I know that gets done, so we’ve got to make the best of it,” he said.
It’s not immediately clear what changes between elementary and middle school to cause the gap in Clark County.
Middle school has been an area of observation for CCSD for a few years, Barton said.
“There’s lot of work to be done at the middle school level with proficiency and growth,” he said. “Middle schools are complicated.”
Middle schools have fewer years to measure student growth — three, as opposed to five for elementary schools — a key indicator for the state. Middle schools also tend to see a dropoff in parent engagement, which Barton said is negatively linked to school performance.
Barton floated the idea of looking at combining elementary and middle schools in the future in an effort to reduce transitions for students and improve results.
Last month, the Review-Journal published the anticipated star ratings for Clark County schools only. Now, we can look at schools across the state, including charters operating under the state Public Charter School Authority. Many of those schools are headquartered in or have campuses in Clark County.
The state Public Charter School Authority oversees charters not sponsored or created by school districts. Many of these charters have an elementary, middle and high school branch.
Elementary charters follow a distribution similar to Clark County’s public schools, with about the same percentage of four- and five-star schools: 35 percent of the total. In middle school, seven of the 20 charters are likely to receive five stars when the state releases its ratings. Although it’s only a few schools, that accounts for 35 percent of all the charter middle schools.
No charter middle schools are set to receive one star. The lowest-ranking middle school, Quest Academy, earned 33.5 points on the index score, on the low end of the two-star spectrum but still solidly in the category.
Jason Guinasso, chair of the Public Charter School Authority board, declined to comment on the unofficial star ratings until the state confirms them in December, but hesaid he’s generally encouraged.
“I think just looking at the preliminary data like you are doing, I’m pleased with what I saw in our portfolio,” he said.
How we did it
The Review-Journal was able to calculate the star ratings before the official release from the State Department of Education, expected to be released on Dec. 15, by using data known as index scores for every school in the state, obtained through a public records request, and cross referencing that with information recently presented to the state Board of Education on how officials are dividing the index scores into the five star categories.