School district’s accountability model moving forward

For too long, Southern Nevada has been plagued by low expectations when it comes to academic excellence. Because of our dependence on a service-driven economy, the value of an education was overshadowed by well-paying jobs in construction and hotels that did not require a high school diploma.

The economic collapse of 2008 positioned Southern Nevada as the poster child for the recession, with the highest unemployment and home foreclosure rates in the nation.

Every crisis brings an opportunity, a chance to do away with what doesn’t work in favor of a bolder, brighter future for our community and our children. In 2010, no longer content with the status quo, the Clark County School Board charged me with the opportunity to reform the Clark County School District. I am grateful for the task.

In difficult situations, we must first own up to the truth. Last week, the district launched a new system of school accountability that shines a bright light on our successes and our failures and makes hiding from the truth impossible. We must celebrate the pockets of excellence we are lucky to have in the district. And we also owe it to our kids to be honest about where we need to improve.

The reality our students face is stark. The odds of landing red at the roulette table are better than the odds that a child will earn a diploma from one of our high schools. Our graduation rate is among the worst in the country.

High school diplomas are exactly what our kids, and our community, need to emerge from this economic crisis. Our community’s dangerous mix of low expectations and low standards is no longer cushioned by an overflow of high-earning, low-skilled jobs.

Every single student deserves a quality education and the increased opportunities that come with a diploma. With the help of outstanding teachers, loving parents and a dedicated community, we can have every graduating senior “ready by exit” — meaning each student is ready to compete in college, join the military or enter a career without remediation.

It’s time to increase standards. It’s time to increase expectations. It’s time to increase the level of rigor we expect of our students. And I’m we’re doing just that.

First, we implemented the Nevada “growth model,” which measures how much each student progresses in a year.

The growth model is the foundation for the new, more transparent school accountability system we unveiled last week known as the “school performance framework. The ranking system identifies high-performing schools so we can recognize those achieving outstanding results and learn from them in order to get better faster. The system also identifies our lowest-performing schools so we can direct support and attention to the campuses that need it most. We must invest in our teachers and principals so they have the right tools for the job.

The school performance framework looks at factors such as student growth and gaps in achievement between ethnic and ability groups and assigns a transparent rating on a one- to five-star scale.

We are taking a hard look in the mirror, and we are also sharing our results with those to whom we are most accountable: our students, our parents and our community.

I believe that all students can, should and must grow academically every year. And when we hold ourselves accountable for the continuous growth of our children, we let our students know we want them to do more than pass a test. We want them to be prepared in the classroom so they can succeed outside of it.

I write to the community with one request: Keep believing in our kids. In striving to raise standards, we might see a drop in student scores at first because we are asking more from them. But those scores will eventually go up because our students are smarter than we give them credit for, and I know we have excellent teachers and principals to guide them.

Some schools might believe they deserve a higher ranking than they receive under the school performance framework, and some students might tell their parents we’re asking too much. But in order to put students on a path for success in life, whether that means college, military or career, we have to raise the bar, step up our game and be willing to admit to past failures while we eye future success.

I am very proud of the 37 five-star schools we celebrated last week, and of all of our principals, teachers and staff who work hard every day to ensure each student grows academically. I am in our schools every week and see shining examples of educators who believe in their students and challenge them daily.

You can view the list of schools and how they measure up at ccsd.net. While you’re there, visit our “get involved” page and see how you can impact the lives of our children. If we can all give a little, we can collectively accomplish a lot.

Dwight Jones is superintendent of the Clark County School District.

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