Published Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 | 9 a.m.
Updated Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 | 9:46 p.m.
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The Clark County School Board unanimously adopted a new school ranking system Thursday night, just hours after officials recognized the district's top-performing schools and identified its lowest-performing schools.
John W. Bonner Elementary School in the west valley is the top-ranked school among the district’s 217 elementary schools and 59 middle schools, according to rankings released this morning.
“This is about learning,” said Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones, who announced the rankings in an appearance to congratulate staff and students at Bonner Elementary. “This isn’t designed to punish or call (low-performing schools) bad names.”
Nevertheless, Jones said he expected improvements from low-performing schools.
“If schools can’t get better, we should look at all options to turn that school around,” Jones said. “Every child should have the opportunity to attend a high-quality school.”
The new ranking system – called the School Performance Framework – has been in the works since the beginning of the school year. In October, the district unveiled a preliminary school-rankings model that measured 30 schools’ academic achievement and operational efficiency.
While the elementary and middle school rankings were released today, a School District spokeswoman said high school rankings weren’t expected to be released until April.
With today’s announcement, Clark County becomes the first school district in Nevada to institute a school-ranking system. Las Vegas follows other major urban school districts with school rankings: New York City, Los Angeles, Denver and Miami.
Gov. Brian Sandoval applauded the new rankings in Clark County.
“I congratulate Superintendent Dwight Jones and the CCSD Board of Trustees for taking this significant step forward,” Sandoval said in a prepared statement. “The School Performance Framework will provide parents with important information about their child’s education and hold educators, administrators and the public accountable. I applaud the state’s largest school district for implementing this level of transparency and I look forward to continuing to work with stakeholders to improve our state’s education system.”
Under the new system, Clark County schools are each assigned a numerical score out of 100 points, based on how they did on number of categories, such as academic performance, student growth and school climate.
About 80 percent of the numerical score is based on a school’s academic performance: improvement on test scores, the percentage of students who are proficient and if the school is closing the achievement gap between its top and lowest-performing students.
The rest of the score is based on school climate, factors such as average daily student attendance, performance of English Language Learner and special education students and the number of students in accelerated classes.
Other factors – such as a school’s fiscal health, safety record and parent involvement – also were considered earlier in the rankings’ development. The School District may decide to include those factors as they tweak and improve the system.
Schools are then ranked, and placed in one of five tiers:
-- Five Stars, for highest-performing schools
-- Four Stars for well performing schools
-- Three Stars, for schools that are meeting but not exceeding academic standards
-- Two Stars, for schools close to meeting minimum standards
-- One Star, for low performing schools
Numerical scores for schools will not be made public.
Five Star schools will be placed in a special “autonomous” school zone, where they will be given more flexibility over curriculum, budget, staffing and day-to-day operations. These schools will be treated similarly to the district’s “empowerment” schools, which are given more autonomy in exchange for greater accountability.
Five Star schools must make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. They will be celebrated annually through a special recognition program supported by business-partners, and receive a special banner signifying their autonomous status.
Of the 357 schools in the district, there are 37 schools that achieved the Five Star status this school year. These high-performing schools will serve as models for lower-performing schools to aspire to, according to the School District.
Principals and teachers from lower-performing schools can learn from the best practices in place at the Five Star schools, Jones said. Further, One Star schools will also receive additional support, such as first preference in new teacher hiring and additional professional development training for teachers.
“The goal of the School Performance Framework is to allow educators to work together and learn from each other,” School Board President Linda Young said in a prepared statement. “This is an important milestone on our journey to reforming our district and increasing academic achievement among all students.”
A 36-member special advisory panel made up of seven teachers, six principals, two parents and other community members developed the new school-ranking system. The group has met once a month since the fall.
Although the rankings will not be used to evaluate school administrators or teachers this school year, they were developed to comply with a new state law mandating academic achievement be used in teacher evaluations. The new law goes into effect in July 2013.
Should schools persistently be among the district’s lowest performers, Jones said, the School District may institute the “turnaround model.” Currently, five schools have replaced more than half of its staff, some including the principal. (The Las Vegas Sun has been tracking the results of the turnaround process at Chaparral, Mojave and Western high schools and Elizondo and Hancock elementary schools. )
Schools dissatisfied with their ranking have between March 15 and April 15 to appeal. They will be given an opportunity to challenge the way their numerical scores were calculated, and to share mitigating factors with the School District.
The new ranking system represents an ongoing push for transparency and accountability by Jones, who took over the district in December 2010.
The School District launched a website earlier this year that gives parents and teachers the ability to track students’ academic progress. The online tool uses the new “growth model,” which follows a student’s academic performance over a period of time, rather than by an annual test score.
Nevada is one of 18 states using the growth model to measure student achievement this year. The growth model is intended to replace the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which rates schools based on annual standardized test scores. Nevada plans to submit a waiver to the controversial law later this month and will propose to replace the act’s stringent annual yearly progress measure with the growth model.
The new school rankings will rely heavily on the growth model, according to district officials. Schools that demonstrate academic growth and do a better job at closing the achievement gap will be rewarded under the new school ranking system.
During his visit this morning, Jones took a tour of Bonner – the district’s newly designated top-ranked school. Principal Paul Catania credited teacher, parent and student engagement for the success of his school.
Since Catania became principal of Bonner two years ago, the Summerlin elementary school has created a program to encourage parents, especially fathers, to volunteer at school. A Star Wars and Superhero theme is carried throughout the building to make the school inviting for students. Bonner also encourages students to do their best on the state Criterion Referenced Tests and throws an ice cream sundae party for all students after the exam.
The school met federal adequate yearly progress goals under No Child Left Behind last year. The school did not previously make AYP.
“It’s a great honor,” Catania said of Bonner’s new Five Star ranking. “It’s good for the kids because they feel a sense of pride in their school now.”
Later Thursday afternoon, Deputy Superintendent Pedro Martinez recognized the 37 Five Star schools at the Fremont Street Experience, where principals and school officials took flight down the Fremont Street Flightlinez zip line. The event symbolized the School District allowing its top schools to soar without heavy oversight from central administration, district officials said.
Most of the 37 Five Star schools pull students from affluent neighborhoods such as Green Valley and Summerlin, but some – like Quannah McCall Empowerment Elementary School – are from high-poverty areas. McCall made large gains in test scores this past school year.
Brenda Reeh, acting assistant principal at McCall, credited various wraparound services for her school's Five Star designation. McCall – where all students receive free and reduced-price lunches – offers food, clothes, medical, mental health and dental services for many of its students and families.
"We've worked very hard," Reeh said. "We have to meet (students') needs so when they're in the classroom, they can focus on school."
Martinez said he hoped the new rankings would spark a dialogue between school leaders on what teaching methods and programs are working. As the School District faces a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall, school officials are looking a ways to improve "return on investment" for taxpayers and parents, he said.
"We think the rankings will mobilize the community to help these schools move (up)," Martinez said. "We want to give support to our One Star and Two Star schools. The whole goal is for them to move."
See an interactive list to find all the school rankings here and check back later today for full coverage of the new school rankings and to see if the School Board adopts the School Performance Framework.