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NEVADA VIEWS: Why aren’t all Nevada high school graduates ‘college and career ready’?

Across the country, graduation rates are often used to measure the effectiveness of our education systems. When rates go up, we assume that our kids are doing better — and the opposite when rates go down. But there are two problems with using graduation rates as any sort of meaningful measuring stick.

First, states and school systems have been gaming the system for years by adjusting and tweaking requirements in order to make it seem as if outcomes have improved.

Second, and more troubling, is that while graduation rates have climbed, students have become less prepared for the workforce and for college. Employers report that recent graduates often don’t have the required skills, and there has been a spike in enrollment in remedial courses at colleges and universities.

In the 2017 legislative session, Nevada lawmakers tried to address this issue by creating an additional diploma type, the College and Career Ready Diploma. The CCR diploma includes more rigorous requirements than the other two general-education diploma types — standard and advanced — with the aim of trying to ensure students are actually ready to enter the postsecondary pathway of their choosing.

Specifically, the CCR diploma places a greater emphasis on science and math and other courses aligned to postsecondary readiness, including career and technical education, work-based learning, world languages, dual-credit and international baccalaureate and advanced placement courses. It should be noted that students have choices about which combination of these courses they want to pursue.

Fast forward to the class of 2022, and we can see the results of these efforts. Only 26 percent of students obtained a CCR diploma, with huge disparities across racial and economic lines. If you ask education officials about these low numbers, you will hear a variety of explanations, including some legitimate challenges such as the lack of awareness of the different diploma types and the large number of students each high school guidance counselor is expected to support. You will also often hear a variety of excuses rooted in low expectations.

While we could focus our energy on solving any number of these challenges, we should really be asking ourselves a more fundamental question: Why have we decided that it’s OK for only some kids to leave high school prepared to enter the workforce or pursue a college degree? By creating a tiered system, we are essentially saying that we think it’s acceptable for some kids to exit high school without the skills that are essential for their future success. Our kids will meet the expectations we set for them, and, sadly, we have let them down by setting a low bar.

As our Legislature begins its 82nd session, I am hopeful that this will be an issue that is addressed. There are several solutions lawmakers might consider — reducing the number of different types of diplomas, making the CCR diploma the default where students can “opt-out” instead of the current “opt-in” approach, or ideally setting a college- and career-ready bar for all students. At minimum, let’s at least rename our diplomas so families and students know exactly what they are getting — sort of prepared, mostly prepared or fully prepared.

It’s much easier to see growth and improvement when we keep expectations low. While the discussion and debate over this issue will certainly be messy and will require political courage, I hope we can all agree that it is time to stop tinkering with our education system and instead do the hard work necessary to make the bold and substantial changes needed to improve results.

Tim Hughes represents District 1, which includes the downtown Las Vegas area, on the Nevada Board of Education.

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