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Study pursues keys to success

Success on fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading tests is the strongest indicator that students will go on to graduate from high school, according to a report released Tuesday by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

The same study also states that “teachers’ salaries have absolutely no correlation to high school graduation,” said researcher Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis, which produced the report.

Because Nevada is infamous for coming in last or next to last on educational rankings such as high school graduation rates, the study tried to identify the factors most important to changing education for the better.

“I do believe there are some common misconceptions out there with regard to what’s most important to a child’s likelihood for success, (while) understanding there’s no silver bullet,” Aguero said.

Unless teacher pay is tied to student performance, he said arguments for improving teacher pay are “essentially white noise.”

Aguero said his study shows that “as teachers’ salaries go up, it has no effect whatsoever on graduation rates.”

Most educators declined comment, saying they did not have time to analyze the report.

But Ruben Murillo, the president of the teachers union, the Clark County Education Association, said the report is “narrow-minded” for looking at factors in isolation, noting that many economic or social factors determine student success as well.

Aguero responded that “arguments are always made in isolation, as in “Let’s point to what they’re doing in Texas.” He said Nevada needs to be aware of what works and does not work.

“Nevada is unlike any other place in the nation,” Aguero said. “So while we have to develop a strategy that is uniquely Nevadan, I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to the things that have shown effectiveness or the lack there of.”

The study, which looks at all 50 states and the District of Columbia, is neutral on the impact of school funding. Some places such as Washington, D.C., spend a lot of money on education but have little to show in student performance, but other big spenders such as New York and New Jersey do have high levels of student achievement.

“To suggest that money by itself is the single determinant of education outcomes or achievement I think turns a blind eye to reality,” Aguero said.

The report puts a state’s academic success in the context of social and economic factors, such as poverty rates and the education level of parents, as well as operational variables, such as how much it spends on education or the educational level of its teachers.

The report analyzes data from the U.S. Census, the U.S. Department of Education and national standardized tests.

“The more you put into education, the more you get out of education,” Aguero said.

“Nevada tends to put very little in and get very little out of its education system.”

“Factors Correlated with Educational Attainment” is part of the chamber’s “Education Briefing Series.”

The report is meant to be informational and does not draw any conclusions, but eventually the chamber’s series of reports should provide the basis so “fact-based policy can be developed,” Aguero said.

“What we are trying to do with these reports is turn up the volume on improving education,” said Steve Hill, a member of the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee.

“We obviously see the results we’re getting now are just not acceptable.”

The chamber is not necessarily opposed to spending more on education, but is against “indiscriminate spending” since businesses want to know what works, he said.

“Indiscriminate spending shows no correlation to educational output, but smart spending probably will,” Hill said.

“We see (for example) that fourth-grade reading is a strong determinant for ultimate educational achievement,” he said. “That would lead me to the conclusion we need to focus on that.”

Hill said some states have ended social promotion in grade school because they want students to do well on these tests.

Because there is so much transiency in Las Vegas, Hill would like to a see community discussion on how schools can better assimilate new students.

He recalled his own experience of moving to another school when he was in the seventh grade.

“It was my worst academic year and I think I’m a pretty bright guy,” Hill said. “It was a very difficult time for me. We have a very highly mobile community. It’s something we have to recognize.

“If we’re going to improve our educational output, we’re going to have to deal with that issue,” he said.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal. com or 702-799-2922.

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