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NEVADA VIEWS: School district is failing our students

Updated March 17, 2023 - 7:17 pm

Like many school districts across the United States, the Clark County School District has been struggling to increase student achievement and improve student outcomes. Since the pandemic, conditions have gotten only worse.

The district has embarked on a three-point reform package that mandates a minimum grade of 50 percent, eliminates due dates for assignments and allows students to retake assessments. Rather than improve conditions, these efforts have accelerated the deterioration.

District officials will tell anyone who will listen that graduation rates have improved, which is true. However, that masks the fact that students are graduating completely unprepared for the world that awaits them. They are lacking the academic knowledge and life skills that we are supposed to teach them. I will endeavor to illustrate how this set of reforms has actually prevented educators from doing their jobs.

The theory behind the minimum 50 percent is that it allows students who have failed one quarter the opportunity to make up for it and succeed in the next quarter. A grade of 15 percent to 20 percent in quarter one makes it nearly impossible to pass the semester. A 50 percent, however, gives the student a fighting chance, and 50 percent is still an F. But the policy in practice is very different than it is on paper.

First, the idea that one can earn 50 percent credit for doing nothing is diametrically opposed to conditions in the real world. The world students will be living in will not give them something for nothing. Also, students have figured out that if they work and score a 75 percent in the first quarter, they can do no work in the second quarter and skip the final exam, earning 50 percent for each. Due to the weighting scheme — quarters one and two each equal 40 percent of the grade and the semester exam represents the remaining 20 percent — they can pass the semester with 60 percent. We owe it to our students and our community to do better than a D-level education.

The theory behind the elimination of due dates is that they are just arbitrary deadlines assigned by the teacher, with no academic meaning. Proponents also argue that students should be free to develop at their own pace and submit their work when they are ready. Again, this does a disservice to graduates upon entering the world outside of the district. I know of no employer that does not set deadlines and establish expectations.

Rather than allow students to learn at their own pace, this policy encourages procrastination. Students put off doing the formative work until the end of the quarter. They then “document dump” on their teachers, forcing us to grade an entire quarter’s worth of work in one week. This does not allow for any meaningful feedback. So they are unaware of items they didn’t get correct, negatively impacting them on the summative assessment.

Assessment retakes are probably the least offensive and least necessary part of the reforms, and for the same reason. Most teachers were doing it already. If students did not do well, but came to the teacher for help, they would not be turned away. The teacher would work with the student and allow the student to earn another chance to prove his or her mastery of the material. By mandating retakes, however, the district has created an entitlement out of something that should be earned. Students now expect a retake regardless of effort. Life does allow for second chances, but they must be earned. This policy now reinforces that students need not exert any effort.

I do not fault the students. They are behaving just like any rational actor would in this situation. They do not have the life experience that would give them the wisdom to see the consequences of this system. The fault lies squarely with district administration, which places the graduation rate above learning.

Members of the business community made sacrifices in 2015 with the commerce tax and 2021 with the mining tax. They did it willingly because they were told that a well-educated workforce was critical to the long-term success of Nevada. We owe it to them, the community as a whole and the kids themselves to provide our students with the best education possible. In this, the leadership of the Clark County School District is failing.

Michael Jahn is a teacher at Centennial High School.

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