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August 21, 2014

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Bill lowers passing score on math test

CARSON CITY -- Legislative leaders have agreed on a plan to allow the majority of seniors who failed the math proficiency exam this year to graduate from high school.

The proposal, to be included in the No Child Left Behind bill, will lower the passing score for the math test from 68 to 62.

Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, confirmed the agreement today between House and Senate leadership.

More than 2,200 seniors failed to pass the math test that is required for graduation, but by adjusting the score, Buckley said, only 895 would fail. Of that number, 2 percent to 3 percent are in special education.

That means that 95 percent of the seniors in the state will be graduating.

The bill also allows those who do not pass under the new standards to take part in the graduation ceremonies, but no receive diplomas.

The lower score will remain in effect until 2007 to allow those in high school to adjust the courses they are taking so they will be able to pass the math examination.

This was the first year of a tougher math proficiency test that was required by a 1996 law, but many schools had not adjusted their curriculum so that students had to take algebra and geometry, subjects reflected on the new test.

Only last October did the state Board of Education require three credits of math to graduate. Beginning this fall, all Clark County students must pass algebra to receive a diploma.

Under the legislative plan, Buckley said, the school districts would be required to report to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack McLaughlin by 2004 what steps they have taken to align their curriculum with the test.

Michael Hillerby, assistant chief of staff for Gov. Kenny Guinn, called it a "fair compromise" that returns the standard to the score required several years ago. He said the students can't be blamed for the "huge spike" in the number of seniors who failed this year to pass the examination.

"It is not a step backward," he said.

He said the governor would sign the bill.

Buckley said Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, has signed off on the agreement.

Clark County School Board President Sheila Moulton said this morning she wasn't sure if the amendment was a positive or negative outcome for education in Clark County.

"I'm torn on this issue," Moulton said. "It's heart-wrenching to see students meet every other qualification for graduation and be denied, but at the same time we're trying to raise the achievement bar."

During the session Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, tried twice to make changes in the graduation standard to address the problem, but she was unsuccessful.

Giunchigliani said this was part of a trade with Raggio. The Senate majority leader had objected to an Assembly amendment in the school aid bill that could have transferred $2.1 million from after-school programs to reduce the size of kindergarten classes.

The money will be restored to the after school programs in exchange for lowering the passing math grade.

Clark County Schools Superintendent Carlos Garcia this morning called the move "a good compromise."

"It gives us the opportunity to make sure that more students have a chance to meet the standards," Garcia said. "Clearly we have some problems to address between the test and the curriculum, and that's what we're moving toward."

The plan will be included in the bill that requires the state to meet the 2002 federal reform education act that requires more testing and evaluation of students through all grades. That bill, which did not have a number this morning, was expected to pass the special session of the Legislature today.

Buckley referred to an e-mail from a mother who said her daughter qualifies for a Millennium Scholarship, had gained all the credits and had good grades but could not pass the math examination.

Buckley said there has been a "disconnect" in some of the school districts in getting the curriculum required to align with what is being tested in the math proficiency examination.

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