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November 25, 2014

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Clark County students make gains on annual math exam

Clark County students showed improvement on a January math exam given to measure their mastery of the first semester’s material, with the biggest gains at the middle school level, the district announced today.

Among middle school students taking a pre-algebra class, 51 percent passed the common semester exam, up from 36 percent last year. In 2008, the first year that district teachers were required to use the same assessment for the final exam, the pass rate was 21 percent.

Middle school students in algebra I also improved, with this year’s pass rate at 73 percent, up from 68 percent last year and 47 percent in 2008. High school students also improved, although the overall failure rate remained high.

This year, 21 percent of high school students passed their algebra I exam, up from 17 percent in 2009 and 9 percent in 2008. For algebra II, the pass rate was 29 percent, compared to 22 percent last year and 13 percent in 2008. The pass rate in geometry was 43 percent, compared to 42 percent in 2009 and 12 percent in 2008.

“One has to get the wheel moving before you can gain speed,” said Clark County Schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes. “The middle school gains will carry into high school because we’ll keep pushing the wheel.”

When the new common semester exam debuted in 2008, the high failure rate set off alarm bells in the district, and some educators wondered if the new test was out of alignment with what was being taught in classrooms. An expert committee was formed to review the test and write new ones, as well as coordinate intensive professional development to help teachers improve instruction.

The district plans to continue using the committee in the coming months, as teacher teams at individual schools set goals for achievement on the exams for the second semester, which will be given this spring.

Among the highlights of today’s report:

*Rogich Middle School had a 100 percent pass rate for algebra I honors.

*Three middle schools – Harney, Hyde Park and White – had a 100 percent pass rate among students taking high-school level geometry.

*Three high schools – Boulder City, Coronado and Green Valley -- met or exceeded the district’s pass rate goals in three courses.

The continued gains by middle school students reflect the district's refined approach to math instruction. The district largely abandoned an initiative to get as many students as possible enrolled in algebra by eighth grade. The new focus is on preparing students for success in algebra and higher math over the course of their middle and high school careers

There are other indicators that district students are getting a better grip on math. More district students are passing the statewide high school proficiency exam, a requirement for graduation, and fewer students are requiring remediation when they enroll at state colleges and universities.

District students are also scoring higher on standardized tests used to measure “adequate yearly progress” under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

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