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State’s students doing poorly

Nevada’s public school system remains dead last in the nation for a second year running, according to an annual analysis of children’s well-being released today.

To come to that conclusion in its Kids Count report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation compared states using data mostly from the 2010-2011 school year and looked at four percentages: fourth-graders reading at grade level, eighth-graders with grade-level math skills, high school students graduating on time, and children attending preschool.

“This isn’t where we want to be,” said interim State Superintendent of Public Instruction Rorie Fitzpatrick, who believes Nevada will “move up” in a few years as Kids Count uses more recent data and schools implement changes passed by a reform-minded Legislature.

But the 2013 report shows just a quarter of Nevada students were proficient in math and reading, according to state tests. Although Nevada lagged behind the national average, America’s students didn’t fare much better, with only one-third of the nation’s students at grade level in those key subjects, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s findings.

Most of the Silver State’s struggling students aren’t catching up by high school either, with only 58 percent of Nevada seniors graduating on time compared to the national average of 78 percent.

Unlike many states, Nevada has required high school students to pass four proficiency tests — often criticized for not being aligned with curriculum — to graduate, Fitzpatrick said. The Legislature changed that earlier this month and set up the framework for the test to be phased out.

About 30 percent of Nevada children attend preschool compared to 46 percent nationally, according to Kids Count.

Although Silver State schools showed little to no improvement over the 2012 report, they did make some long-term gains. Nevada has improved by a few percentage points in key areas since 2005. For example, the percentage of students graduating on time increased from 56 percent to 58 percent from 2006 to 2010. But that’s still the lowest rate in the country for that year.

“We are not where we need to be,” Clark County School District Super­intendent Pat Skorkowsky said. “But this report shows that Nevada’s education indicators are headed in the right direction.”

Although Clark County is just one of 17 Nevada school districts, it’s largely responsible for the state’s bottom ranking. It enrolls 70 percent of the state’s students and is the nation’s fifth-largest district.

Skorkowsky is confident the district — and therefore the state — will improve. He and Fitzpatrick pointed to additional state funding that will allow more schools to provide full-day kindergarten and preschool starting next year.

Also, for the first time, the state will provide funding, $50 million over the next two years, specifically for English language learning students, who often struggle in school.

Skorkowsky said changes have been made in Clark County middle schools which would improve eighth-grade math scores, and a focus has been placed on improving the high school graduation rate.

The district’s graduation rate improved by 2 percentage points in 2012, landing at 61 percent.

However, the 2013 senior class that walked the stage a couple of weeks ago may have posted a worse graduation rate. The district estimates that 14,500 seniors received their diplomas, which is about 500 fewer than in 2012, and the classes were about the same size.

The official graduation rate won’t be known for months.

Reflecting the belief that there is more to children’s well-being than how they are doing in school, Kids Count also looks at children’s economic, health and family well-being. Kids Count has released a report every year since 1990.

Indicators include rates of children living in poverty, low birth-weight babies, teen births and children in single-family households.

The state fared slightly better in those categories, ranking 48th in economic well-being, 47th in health and 41st for a supportive family/community environment.

“The effects of the recession on Nevada children are obviously still evident,” said Rennae Daneshvary, director of Nevada Kids Count, calling Nevada’s recovery “sluggish.”

The state is making improvements.

“The Nevada economy appears to be improving, which should benefit the welfare of our children,” Daneshvary said.

Nevertheless, Nevada’s ranking for children’s overall well-being landed at 48th out of the 50 states, same as last year. Only children in Mississippi and New Mexico were worse off.

The New England states continued to dominate the top of the list. Same as last year, children are best off in New Hampshire, followed by Vermont and Massachusetts.

To see the 2013 Kids Count report, visit kidscount.org.

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

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