EDITORIAL: Despite tax hikes, most students behind in reading

Nevada released a slew of test score data last week, and there’s good and sobering news for Nevada students.

Start with the good. Aside from seventh-grade English, the number of students proficient in English and math increased in every grade from third through eighth.

“The improvement in both math and English language arts once again demonstrates that Nevada is on course to become the fastest-improving state in the nation,” Steve Canavero, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement. Canavero credited the gains to the programs and funding increases started under Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Perhaps. But this is where the sobering news comes in. The gains are positive, but they’re also incremental. The number of third-graders proficient in English increased 1.32 percentage points to 46.12 percent. Proficiency among eighth-graders went up 0.93 percentage points to 47.41 percent.

In math, there’s a troubling trend. The longer students remain in public schools, the more their proficiency declines. Third-grade math proficiency increased 0.68 percentage points to 48.25 percent, but by eighth grade proficiency is under 30 percent.

The low overall rate of proficiency in third grade provides the greatest cause for concern. Those students have participated in the programs Sandoval passed in 2015 since they were in first grade. If you want credit for the increase, you also need to explain why reading proficiency remains under 50 percent. That’s certainly not the transformation Sandoval promised when pushing the largest tax increase in Nevada history to pay for his programs.

In tests that weren’t administered by state bureaucrats, the news is even more concerning. The biennial National Assessment of Education Progress is the gold standard of measuring student achievement across the country. In 2011, it showed that 36 percent of Nevada’s fourth-graders were proficient in math. That’s fallen in every test since and now sits at 31 percent. In better news, Nevada’s fourth-grade reading scores on the NAEP have increased since 2005, growing from 21 percent proficiency to 31 percent.

It seems like any news about education will result in calls for more spending, and that’s what new Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara is doing.

“This is why I’m committed to working with the Legislature to increase the funding to improve our working conditions for our employees,” said Jara. “Looking at the possibility, if we lower class size, I think CCSD will continue going forward to becoming the No. 1 district for kids.”

The district started the school year with more than 500 teaching vacancies. Leaving aside the many failures of class-size reduction, it’s not a great sign that Jara’s plan depends on hiring even more teachers.

Gains are better than the alternative, but after spending so much, these new results feel underwhelming.

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