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April 16, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: EDUCATION:

Most students aren’t failing math, schools chief says

Rulffes: Results of district test misleading

What was intended as an in-house assessment of its students’ math skills continues to be a very public headache for the Clark County School District.

The end-of-semester exam was given for the first time in January to measure students’ mastery of classroom content. Failure rates at the high school level ranged from 87 percent for Algebra 2 to more than 90 percent for Algebra 1. At the middle school level, performance was slightly better, but failure rates still topped 80 percent.

A committee of experts will review the results and make recommendations for changes. Several issues have been raised about the test’s administration, including whether the test was too lengthy for the allotted time. There’s also evidence the level of preparation for the test varied widely from school to school, as did the subject areas covered by teachers in the first nine weeks of instruction.

At Thursday’s School Board meeting, Superintendent Walt Rulffes sought to put the results into context.

The majority of the district’s students are not failing math, Rulffes said.

“This does not in any way represent the quality of the teachers and the students in this community,” Rulffes said. “This is a measurement and an assessment of where we are, and where we want to be.”

Jhone Ebert, assistant superintendent of curriculum, said the district has shown improvement in some areas, including steering more students to a fourth year of advanced math in high school, while performance on statewide standardized tests has slipped slightly or remained steady.

There’s a tremendous amount of work to be done, Ebert said, including helping students recognize the long-term value of math education.

She recalled one of the phrases Teen Talk Barbie dolls were spouting in the early ’90s was a complaint that “math class is tough.”

“This is the United States of America,” Ebert told the School Board. “Barbie should love math.”

**

For years, the Clark County School Board has set aside time at its biweekly meeting for student council presidents to give brief updates about their campuses. The remarks typically include the latest awards or honors, and are unfailingly upbeat.

On Thursday, Bryson Tanner, a fifth grader at Charlotte Hill Elementary School, set a new standard for candor.

“First,” Bryson said, “I will talk about the things I like. Then I will talk about the things I don’t.”

Bryson said he actually likes homework, provided there’s not too much of it. His music classes are also great.

But the school doesn’t have enough field trips. Additionally, “I don’t like school lunch,” Bryson said, as the audience laughed. “My mom’s cooking is 1,000 times better.”

School Board members Carolyn Edwards told Bryson “that’s good feedback for us to hear about the lunches. Would your mother like a job?”

In fact, in a step toward improving the 133,000 lunches served daily, along with 41,000 breakfasts and 3,100 snacks, the district consolidated much of its food preparation services into a new central kitchen.

The move allows the district to do more preparation off-site, including freshly assembling salads and sandwiches that have proved popular with students.

Although the kitchen began operating at the start of the academic year, the first media tour off the facility will be Friday. The question on some reporters’ minds is: Will we be washing down samples from the School District’s menu with lukewarm boxes of milk?

•••

The Las Vegas Charter School of the Deaf is cleared to open for business this fall, after winning unanimous final approval from the Clark County School Board.

The charter school, which will offer classes for students in grades K-3, will become Nevada’s first dedicated campus for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Based on the number of readers who have called to comment or ask for more information, the school is long overdue.

Following the vote the school’s supporters, who took up nearly three rows in the School Board’s meeting room, raised their hands over their heads and wiggled their fingers — a sign language version of applause.

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