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EDITORIAL: Star rankings show some successes, overall need for improvement

The biggest takeaway from the new school star rankings remains how much work needs to be done in the Clark County School District.

Each year, schools are rated from one to five stars, with five being the highest. The measurement reflects several factors including student proficiency, learning growth and graduation rates. It has become a shorthand way to identify successful and struggling schools. For the most recent school year, 51 percent of district schools received three or more stars.

One benefit of this system is that it allows district leaders and the public to identify high performers. The district celebrated Triggs Elementary School, which jumped from two stars to five stars. That’s a major accomplishment, and much credit goes to Principal Sheila Cooper and her staff. The next step is to replicate at other schools what Ms. Cooper did at Triggs. That’s a challenge given each campus has its own unique circumstances, but at least district officials know which leaders to emulate.

The ratings also allow for easy comparisons between traditional public schools and charter schools. Charter schools are public schools that are run by an outside organization and freed from some of the bureaucratic requirements imposed on traditional campuses. In the 2019 legislative session, some Democrats tried to impose a moratorium on new charter schools. The new performance data shows what a mistake that would be. More than 60 percent of state-sponsored charter schools earned four or five stars.

Unfortunately, Democrats succeeded in eliminating the Achievement School District. Passed by legislative Republicans in 2015, that reform allowed a charter school to take over underperforming public schools. These ratings show just how miserably some schools are failing students. For instance, only 9 percent of the students attending Harry Reid Elementary School are proficient in reading. At Lynch Elementary Schools, just 22 percent are proficient in reading. Both are one-star schools.

Thanks to Democrats, however, the possibility of a takeover by a charter operator is no longer there to spur much-needed improvement.

It’s important to note, though, that while five-star schools have better results, parents shouldn’t assume every child at those campuses is performing at grade level. That’s because schools receive maximum points for “achievement” if 60 percent or more of their students are proficient in a specific subject area. There is a special emphasis on Read by Grade 3 proficiency. To receive full points, 63 percent of third- graders have to be proficient in reading.

Thus, Diaz Elementary School has a five-star rating, but just 53 percent of its students are proficient in English. Only 46 percent are proficient in math.

The newest star ratings indeed highlight improvements withing the Clark County School District and reveal encouraging bright spots, such as the success at Triggs and among charter schools. But district officials still have plenty of heavy lifting to do.

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