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August 20, 2014

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Yearly school progress report delayed at state Ed Department

If there’s one announcement that has every principal of Clark County’s more than 350 public schools on edge, it’s whether his or her campus will have been deemed a failure by the federal government.

The Clark County School District was supposed to announce next week its annual “Adequate Yearly Progress” report cards, one measure of a school’s success in the No Child Left Behind initiative. But that announcement has been delayed until the second week of August because of a bureaucratic traffic jam at the Nevada Education Department, which has the responsibility of reviewing and verifying test results and other data used to measure school performance.

Some administrators would rather get the annual ordeal over with more quickly — especially since the district is expecting a significant jump in failing schools because of tougher standards. Last year, 171 schools did not make sufficient progress.

But district officials aren’t complaining about the delay. In fact, they say it will give them more time to review the results, hunt for procedural errors and appeal to the state on behalf of campuses with extenuating circumstances that might qualify for a break.

“It’s always such a rush to get it done,” said Sue Daellenbach, assistant superintendent for assessment and accountability. “This buys us a little time to go back through everything again and make sure we haven’t missed any opportunities.”

The school-by-school progress reports are supposed to be finalized by the state by Aug. 1. That’s being pushed to Aug. 16, Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Keith Rheault said.

As a result of the state’s budget crisis, Rheault had to give up some of his contract workers who had been assigned to review the yearly progress reports. Additionally, the same stretched staff was working feverishly to meet the deadline for the federal “Race to the Top” grant competition, which could bring hundreds of millions of dollars to public schools — money that in theory would improve student performance and mean fewer schools failing to make sufficient progress to satisfy the law.

Further complicating matters was the State Board of Education’s decision in May to change the passing score for several of the required exams, which meant a delay in the final calculations.

No Child Left Behind requires schools to demonstrate achievement both overall and by 37 student subgroups, including ethnicity, special education and socioeconomic status. Campuses that fall short are designated as needing improvement and face sanctions.

The federal law requires every student to be proficient in reading, writing and math by the 2013-14 academic year.

States were allowed to choose their route to that goal, with Nevada opting for a steady increase in the benchmark expectations every few years. This year has one of those increases, which means it will be harder for schools to hit the mark. Additionally, the feds have required Nevada to raise its minimum graduation rate for schools to 85 percent from its previous requirement of 50 percent. That’s going to be difficult for many campuses, Daellenbach said. In 2009, only 11 of the district’s 44 high schools had graduation rates of 85 percent or better.

It’s expected that the district as a whole will not make adequate progress, and will be labeled as needing improvement.

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