EDITORIAL: State’s school rating system needs toughening

Coming to terms with the poor performance of Nevada’s school system has been an education for policymakers, elected officials, business leaders and taxpayers alike. Although the state’s ultimate measures of success — high school graduation rates and the value of high school diplomas — rate among the nation’s worst overall, Nevada has many excellent schools with excellent teachers, leaders and education models.

The state’s report card, which was released last week, attempts to address both the successes and failures of elementary, middle and high schools across Nevada. Although the five-star rating system has many flaws, all of which tend to inflate scores, it provides more accountability than existed even a few years ago, and it reveals undeniable truths about the state of education.

On the surface, the star ratings seem barely believable. Statewide, only 25 percent of schools received one or two stars, which represent substandard achievement, and more than 31 percent of schools received four or five stars based on the 2013-14 school year. If three-quarters of Nevada schools are average or better, how can the state reside in the basement of national achievement rankings? Within the Clark County School District, just 28 percent of campuses received one or two stars, while 30 percent received four or five stars. Are nearly one-third of our schools really that good?

Indeed, the state scores schools more favorably than it scores students. For a school to receive three stars, it must score 50 out of 100 possible points. To receive five stars, a school must get at least 77 out of 100 points. That’s a C in the classroom.

But three stars do not necessarily translate to a C. Three-star schools have “some areas of success as well as some areas that need improvement relative to student proficiency,” according to the state. That would seem to describe a 2½-star rating.

Although the overall star ratings are slightly misleading, the year-over-year changes in ratings appear to be brutally honest. In Clark County, 57 schools added at least one star to their rating, but 73 schools were downgraded. The number of one-star schools increased from six to 13. And the number of one- and two-star elementary schools increased from 52 to 69. When elementary schools fail to provide students with basic proficiencies but advance them to middle school anyway, children fall further and further behind. Nevada can’t enact an end to social promotion soon enough.

Another important bit of data within the state’s report card: Of the 35 charter schools overseen by the state authority, 17 received a four- or five-star rating. Traditional public schools couldn’t match that rate. It’s proof that school choice is helping Nevada education.

We’d rather have the star ratings than nothing at all. But, as with schools themselves, tougher standards appear to be in order.

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