EDITORIAL: Dead last
Nevada kids again trail their peers
August 24, 2016 - 8:00 pm
About the only positive surrounding the bad news this week regarding Nevada’s dismal ACT scores is that the state’s top education official didn’t offer any typical excuses in response.
“That’s unacceptable,” said Steve Canavero, Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction, after learning the Silver State’s showing placed it last among the 18 states that mandate the college admissions exam. “I know our students can do better and I know our state can do better.”
Let’s hope so. This embarrassment should serve as a bucket of ice water in the face for those who defend the status quo.
More than 32,000 Nevada students from the class of 2016 completed the ACT last fall, compared with just 9,300 from the previous class when participation was voluntary. The obvious expectation was that average scores would fall significantly, given the expanded pool of students.
Nevertheless, the numbers were jaw-dropping. Test results released last month revealed that just 11 percent of Nevada students were prepared to handle college-level work in English, reading, math and science. The national average was 26 percent.
And now, new data published this week shows that Nevada kids trailed their peers in every other state that also tests all high school juniors. While 61 percent of Colorado students hit the college-ready mark in English, only 37 percent of Nevada kids made the grade. In neighboring Utah, 33 percent of test takers were deemed prepared for the next level in science, far higher than the 18 percent of Nevada students who reached the benchmark.
Nevada’s scores were roughly comparable to, but slightly worse than, those compiled in Mississippi.
Apologists for the state’s long record of undistinguished academic performance often cite demographics as a convenient explanation. Others agitate for that old union stand-by, more money. But taxpayers can’t be expected to pour more money into an underperforming bureaucracy absent results. Meanwhile, Mr. Canavero correctly scorns the bigotry of low expectations.
“I would reject the notion that Nevada is so uniquely different,” he said, “that we can somehow be comfortable with the results that we are seeing.”
Nevada lawmakers initiated a series of wide-ranging reforms last session, including new programs designed to improve performance in low-income areas and to ensure students become proficient in reading by the third grade. Other measures seek to create more choice opportunities for all Nevada parents, to strengthen charter schools and to decentralize the massive Clark County School District.
These initiatives — some of which faced heated opposition from the education establishment and Democratic lawmakers — offer some hope for improvement down the road. In the meantime, the lagging ACT scores only further reinforce the urgent need to disrupt business as usual.