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January 30, 2015

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School District sees big drop in test scores

Officials attribute decline to tougher test, higher passing standards

Dwight Jones

Dwight Jones

Pedro Martinez

Pedro Martinez

Carolyn Edwards

Carolyn Edwards

Clark County School District officials attributed a significant drop in test scores this year to a more rigorous test and higher proficiency standards.

The School District on Thursday announced results of the 2011 Criterion Reference Test and the Nevada High School Proficiency Exam that showed a drop in reading test scores for all grades except fifth grade.

The CRT is a benchmark test given to students in third to eighth grades. The NHSPE is a standardized test given to all Nevada students starting in grade 10; students must pass the exam to graduate high school.

Reading proficiency at the middle and high school levels showed the most significant drops, from about 20 percentage points in seventh and eighth grades to 30 percentage points in 10th grade.

There was an average drop of 20 points on the eighth grade reading test, Superintendent Dwight Jones said. Only 48 percent of 10th grade students taking the NHSPE passed the reading section on their first try.

Sue Daellenbach, the assistant superintendent of assessment, accountability, research and school improvement, attributed the drop in reading scores to a more difficult test and more stringent passing standard.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Nevada English Language Arts standards were revised, and those changes were implemented for the first time this past school year, Daellenbach said.

Students read longer passages on this year’s test and answered questions that tested their analysis of the passage.

For example, a question on this year’s reading test might have asked, “What is the most important turning point in the passage?”

In previous years, students were assessed on reading comprehension. A question on a previous year’s tests might have asked, “What is the main idea of paragraph two?”

“That’s an entirely different type of question, where students have to make their own evaluation about what they read,” Daellenbach said. “That’s a big step, from finding a concrete answer in a couple of paragraphs...The rigor is much higher than in previous years.”

Because the test standards changed, the Nevada State Board of Education raised the “cut scores” — the passing score — on the NHSPE in May. The cut score went up to 300 points, from 251. The higher passing grade might explain the 30 percentage point drop in the 10th grade reading passage rate, Daellenbach said.

The School District would have experienced a similar drop in math scores two years ago if it weren’t for “transitional cut scores.”

The state lowered the passing grade on the math section for three years to help the district transition to the higher math standard, Daellenbach said. This year’s test scores would be 20 points lower if it weren’t for the “transitional cut scores.”

“Somebody described it as a wound and a Band-Aid,” she said. “In reading, we just pulled it off. With math, we’re kind of easing it off.”

Next year, Nevada will move to an even higher testing standard adopted voluntarily by 43 states called the Common Core Standards.

Reading and math standards will again rise, from analysis of reading passages and solving math equations to synthesizing short essays and solving math word problems.

The Nevada State Board of Education is participating in a regional National State Board of Education conference in early August to determine how to implement the new Common Core Standards in state curricula and assessments.

Daellenbach said the School District is working to ready teachers and students for the higher standards, holding summer workshops.

“It’s a big difference from bubbling (in an answer) to writing an essay,” Daellenbach said. “I imagine it’ll have some impact, but I don’t know how much.”

Jones reiterated his support for the new Common Core Standards, which he said would make students “ready by exit.” He warned, however, that “it’s going to be a tremendous challenge for teachers” who may have to change their syllabi to teach to the new standard.

He also pledged more help for teachers and a renewed focus on literacy in the early grades. Under his reform plan, Jones proposed implementing a benchmark test in reading at the first grade.

“Youngsters who are showing early signs of struggle, if we intervened right then, it’ll be cheaper and their chance for success will be greater,” Jones said. “Those students will be stronger readers, which will make a tremendous difference when kids get to middle school.”

School District officials said they were disappointed by this year’s test scores, but maintained they cannot be compared to scores from previous years because of the new standards.

Officials also said the drop in test scores is not limited to the Clark County School District.

“This is not a Clark County issue,” said Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Pedro Martinez. “This is a statewide issue, because the entire state dropped. It’s not just us.”

There was also some good news, officials said. Elementary school reading test scores remained steady despite the higher standards.

“Let’s celebrate the fact that our fifth-graders went up an average of 10 points across the district with a new exam that’s much more rigorous,” Martinez said, adding that he is still concerned about eighth-grade literacy. “I think that’s something to be optimistic about.”

School Board President Carolyn Edwards was more somber in her assessment of the test scores.

“We need to not lose sight of the fact that although there are reasons why the scores are lower, they are lower, and we have a greater distance to go than we had before,” she said. “It is imperative at this point that we move forward, that we reach achievement for every single student in our district.

“No excuses,” she said. “Let’s just get the job done.”

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  1. Maybe, just maybe, the scores are lower because they are the true scores now?

  2. That was a ridiculous post, Bob Realist.

    ...Meanwhile, we were told this was a'coming. And I see here that testing standards will be stiffer yet, from next year. So be it. Honest assessments of how much we have to do is required. So far, so good with the new Super in this brutal new world of education. And teachers, I've your back, both on these forums and in my local elementary school where I volunteer. Let's "get 'r done."

  3. Sandoval's cuts are having there effect.

  4. We have hired a new Super and now we are cutting his arms off. (Thanks again.) This man has a record that we hired him for, take the chains off him and let him go to work.
    We really need to simplify, go back to the basics and build from there. That is Reading, there should be no child that can't read by the third grade. NONE. Writing is important and when you learn to read, writing is secondary. Learn words. Math, my god, the most basic thing required to survive.
    Here is the deal: I spent 3 weeks at the legislature, I listened to the complaining about the schools and I saw the TV ads. DID ANYONE SEE THEM SAYING "THEY ARE CUTTING MY READING TEACHER, OR MY WRITING TEACHER OR MY MATH TEACHER"? No, why? cause they were not, and the media and students would rather focus on "they are cutting theater", or some other extra class. We need to get our house in order and we know what works, so does this new Super.
    Parents need to demand better. Teachers need to stand up a say what teacher in the next room is not doing a good job, administrators need to be held accountable as well. Nobody has ever said school is supposed to be fun, it is education.

    You know, you can go to the State of Nevada School Districts, find the rating of all the districts in this State and see that we have a district within 200 miles that receives a 9 out of 10 rating. We get a 5. Is there no desire to improve?

    Name me a time when our legislature has indeed cut the spending, and I mean cut it where it can't function. NEVER, and we have funded this district for many years and we continue to get bad results. I think it is high time we look inside those doors.

    I would love to see this district cut into smaller districts, at least to zip code size. Then we can go directly to the problem, fix it and move on. Why are the kids of today dumb? They aren't, we have changed, made grades non existent, made competition a non factor, removed parents from the scholastic lives of their own kids. We need to return to reality, we should not wait till a child is ready for the 5th grade or High School and then discover that he/she can't read. Please.

  5. Thank you airweare - as an involved parent I think what the school district seems to fail to understand is that parents need help to understand how to help their children.

    If you give us the tools, we can help our kids, if you don't we struggle right along with them.

  6. Nothing to do with the kids. Its the parents who are FAILING.

    Take away the video games and TV during school week stupid parents. Your kids should be doing nothing but SCHOOL and HOMEWORK. I have 10 and 8 year old, they are both straight A's, always have been. They are not smarter then anyone else, its we don't let them play video games and watch TV during the week, so the school and homework. That's it.

    So STOP failing parents. Its 100% YOUR FAULT your kids are stupid.

  7. Teach to educate, not to pass the test. Focus on the former and the latter will follow.

  8. Just my POV but...for the last 10 years we were adding teachers faster than we could count. These teachers were from all over the US with varying degrees of expertise. To bring everyone to a common ground, we had reading, writing, and mathematics curriculum that was the same for every teacher and every student, that we had to follow with fidelity, so that we were all teaching the same that the pace is slowed, we are heading back in the direction from whence we came. The Common Core State Standards have been adopted by over 30 states ensuring that each state has the same rigorous standards. It gives teachers the freedom to teach to the needs of the students placed in front of them...not to the text, not to the test, but to the kids!!! I've been waiting for this pendulum to swing back and Thank Heaven it has!!!!!

  9. First, those test scores are how a student performs on a single test on a single day, the 120th day of school to be exact. It is not an accurate picture of student learning. They never have been, and never will be.

    Second, retention doesn't improve learning. It's proven. Every study out there shows that of students retained, roughly 80% will be back where they were in 2 years. (ex. fail the 3rd grade test, retained, pass... by 5th grade they fail again.) Drop out rates increase the more students are retained. Who wants to be 18 and in 9th grade?

    Third, thank you airweave. Yes, the Common Cores State Standards are wonderful! However, it's going to take a lot of content knowledge and pedagogical changes with both teachers and parents to make the change effective. Both teachers and parents need to stop with the "this is how I learned it in school". I have seen it year after year, after year. The way we assess students is different than "when I was in school" (and will be much different under Common Core Assessments), so the way students have to learn the material has to be different. Teaching students "the way I learned it" does them no good, and is more times than not, a hindrance to their learning.

    So, while it's one thing to say teachers need to work with parents, parents also need to work with teachers. Everyone (teachers and parents alike) needs to understand that learning today really is not what it used to be; and what was good enough for us, really isn't good enough for our children.

    I will gladly provide examples of the difference between expectations of "then and now" in both math and language arts if anyone needs.

  10. Thanks to the FEDERAL USA government mandated No Child Left Behind, the bar is RAISED yearly, and presumeably, by 2014, every child (no matter if they have a challenge or disability or are physically incapable) in the USA must reach 100% mastery/competence!

    That is the real gun that is pointed at educator's heads. It is the history behind the test obsession we see today.

    Now, couple that, with recent uncontrolled IMMIGRATION (Non-English speaking students/families), unsustainable growth (children come home to an empty house-parents are working several jobs to survive), and then, my all time favorite, text messaging (which destroys good spelling and English grammar habits), and we have had a disaster in the works and manifesting.

    Many teachers work hard, reach out to parents of students in attempt to fill the gaps (volunteering on their own time), but efforts get thwarted.

    The public needs to understand that the bar continues to be raised until 100% mastery. Schools will get turned around, more and more, due to the deadline. Contact your FEDERAL government representative, and express your concerns about No Child Left Behind, please and thank you.

  11. The school board has it's hands tied by the state. The legislature sets the final standards, the legislature determines the accountability measures, the legislature sets the date of the test...

    I'm also not sure how you can say the school board doesn't want change when they have been lobbying to change our assessment to a Growth Model (which will start in August) and they've been lobbying for new standards (which will change in August). Two of the largest changes a district could go for.

    Also, parents do have choice of school. They always have. You can send your child to any school in the District. All you have to do is walk in the door and fill out a form, then drive your kid there.

    School is what you make it. If you are an involved parent, your child will succeed in school- public or private. If you are not involved and offer no help to your child, your child will not succeed in school- public or private. The only difference being, private can kick you out so you don't mess up their statistics.

  12. Joe (airweare), I like the idea of lesson plans for parents. Does anyone know if that's been discussed in the district? The issue of parental accountability might be the toughest nut to crack. This doesn't address the entire issue, but it would at least attempt to get them involved.

    Seems like something that should be done by existing administrators, since teachers have their hands full.

    Drop in test scores isn't surprising, but I don't know enough to accept, or be disappointed by, the amount by which they dropped. I like the move to the common standards adopted by most other states. It's going to be tough for a while, but at least we're being honest with ourselves. It's much worse to push these kids through, give them diplomas, only so that a huge % of them can either go to college and take remedial classes, or not go at all.

  13. As much as I hate to, I agree with Airweare's point as well. Teach parents how to create an environment for learning at home and how to reinforce what is being taught in school.
    Joe- Consider this a one time, blue moon-type of occurrence. LOL :)

  14. Relax everybody. Nevada is not well known for any academic achievements outside of increasing the casino's odds on the blackjack table. Anyone with talent is going to go to a private school or leave the state. We have a race to the bottom going on in this country and our state is a strong contender although I'm betting on Mississippi.

  15. Poor parenting, no discipline to get the work done, kids who don't care. Everything went down hill when the single parent household became the norm. It's the breakdown plus a city where education has always been viewed as unneccessary. Do I need a high school diploma to park cars and make 40K/year?

    Now they are finding out those jobs are gone and those same high school dropouts are asking "fries with that burger" for 7/hr.

    No one wants to say what needs to be said. It's not money, It's not the teaching's a population of parents in this city who don't give a sh*t whether their kid does well in school or not. They have their own problems making ends meet. If I missed a school day it was because I was genuinely sick. Not because my mom gave me a day off, or I wanted to go meet friends, or I didn't feel like going, or I didn't get my work done. I never cut because I feared my parents reaction...not the truant officer. There was no such thing as a truant officer in my day. We went to school and did the work because we were instilled with the idea that to get ahead in life an education was the first step. Hell, not even to get ahead but be able to support yourself in a decent manner.

  16. To Airweare:
    "Why not get little Spanish speaking kids to teach Espanol to little white and black kiddos, and the get little black and white people to share their understanding of how English works?"

    Talk about a crackpot idea. No WONDER everybody ignored you the other times you brought this up. For starters, the "little Spanish-speaking kids" ARE in class all day long, speaking conversationally, side-by-side, with "Little black and white kids." The operative word, however, is "conversationally." The issue is: how to get ALL kids (but particularly Hispanics) to comprehend and express far more complex concepts in English. Taking precious time away from day's curriculum for this inmates-take-over-the-asylum, monumental waste of time you propose would be disastrous.

    I thought you were a teacher. If this condescending, completely out-of-touch, hairbrained idea is your notion of how to fix education in Las Vegas, you do NOT belong in the classroom anymore.

  17. Sounds like a set up. Get all the rating factors close to zero so it will LOOK LIKE AN IMPROVEMENT next year and the yar after.

  18. On the bright side, there is no place else to go but up.

    I expect a serious turn around in Nevada schools in a decade, however if you have a kid in school now, you are sol. Home-school them.

  19. joe has an excellent idea. I grew up from age three to age sixteen in a number of European, Middle Eastern and Asian [subcontinent] countries. Dad had a thing about sending me only to local schools [possibly he was cheap]. Kids learn to communicate quickly when thrown into those situations although no one should argue that it's the proper form of language. Nonetheless, they can communicate and, better yet, they get a sense of the rhythm and "sound" of the spoken language.

  20. Airweare- Your losing it. I've seen you disqualify so many people as humans who post comments because of the "your" "you're" "it's" "its" grammar mistake bs. We know you're light on supportive facts and when someone points this out your argument is weakened which leads you to point out "grammar mistakes" to change the subject. The link below shows someone else who has mentioned that you're loose with your facts.

  21. DTJ,

    Below is another link of a back and forth with Airweare. On May 26th of this year, he stated that he "made about 3 times a teacher salary" however on June 29th he stated "I do 6 days/week of 2 or 3 a day making a teacher salary in a few weeks of having way more fun than a teacher has all year".

    I asked him, which is it? Does he make about 3 times a teacher salary or does he make a teacher's salary in a few weeks?

    He just can't seem to keep his stories straight.

    He's passionate about teachers and education however, his claims are sometimes exaggerated which are easily challenged by available statistics. He can't seem to win an argument with facts so he resorts to ad hominem(personal attacks) arguments.