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EDITORIAL: Scores prove that CCSD’s grading reforms lowered standards

The Clark County School District’s grading reforms are working as predicted. Achievement remains abysmal, but students are receiving higher grades.

Recently, the district updated the Board of Trustees on changes implemented last year. The new policies include mandating the “minimum F”, which makes 50 percent the lowest grade possible. Teachers now can’t penalize students for late work. Students have the ability to retake tests.

These changes made it easier to pass classes and receive better marks. No surprise that this is precisely what happened. Last fall, 23 percent of students received at least one “F,” down from 28 percent in fall 2019. The district’s slide deck showed similar results in earlier years, too. In addition, 37 percent of all assigned grades last fall were “A”s. That was another improvement over historic levels. In fall 2019, the figure was 31 percent.

Fall 2020 is an outlier because the district forced students to endure distance learning. Unsurprisingly, students didn’t learn much, and 38 percent of students received at least one “F” that semester.

District officials want the taxpayers to believe these changes represent actual improvement in student achievement. The contention is that students are taking advantage of additional opportunities to master the material. Higher grades, they contend, simply reflect this rather than students using lower standards to game the system.

“The data supports the theory that by providing students with additional opportunities to learn, they will succeed,” Greg Manzi, assistant superintendent of assessment, told the board. Superintendent Jesus Jara denounced news reports claiming “’we are lowering the standards,” saying that was the “furthest thing from the truth.”

Fortunately, there’s no need to settle this on theoretical grounds. The Nevada Department of Education annually tests third- through eighth-graders statewide. If the district’s scores were higher last year than before the pandemic, its grading changes might be celebrated. If scores are lower, however, perhaps grading reform is really just grade inflation.

In the 2018-19 school year, 48.3 percent of district third- through eighth-graders were proficient in English. In math, it was 36.6 percent. But the district fell well short of those marks in the 2021-22 school year. English proficiency was 41.2 percent. In math, it was a scant 26.4 percent.

Expect district ACT scores to reflect a similar dynamic, despite the abundance of “A”s.

The ultimate exemplars of a failed public education system might be graduates who struggle to read their diplomas or who lack mastery of basic multiplication tables. Under the district’s grading reforms, don’t be surprised if such students graduate with numerous “A”s.

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