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September 17, 2014

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Sun Editorial:

A five-star system

Plan to rank student achievement provides a great push forward

Q+A: Dwight Jones

Dwight Jones, the superintendent of the Clark County School District, answers readers questions here.

The Clark County School District recently rolled out a ranking system for its elementary and middle schools, and despite the grumbling in some corners of the district, it should prove to be a good tool to improve student achievement.

The schools were scored based on a variety of indicators, including standardized test results, academic rigor, improvement and how the schools engage students and parents. The schools were then given one to five stars based on their scores.

The top-performing schools with five stars are being given greater freedom in how they work, and lower-performing schools will be given more help. To describe the push for achievement that comes next for schools, district officials are using this term, “Catch up, keep up, move up.”

In other words, standing still isn’t an option, and that’s good to hear. Superintendent Dwight Jones has been insistent on improving the schools since his arrival and has tried to shake the complacency out of the district.

“Let’s not let ‘good’ be good enough,” he told the Sun’s editorial board recently. “Our kids are so much smarter than we give them credit for.”

The plan immediately ran into criticism in some corners of the district.

As Paul Takahashi recently reported in the Sun, some teachers have complained that the rankings put an undue emphasis on competition and test scores. Some teachers worried about staff morale at low-ranking schools.

That’s not a surprise. Educational rankings are controversial, and they are often done poorly, as the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act demonstrated. Jones, however, is standing firm, and soon plans to release a ranking system for high schools.

“We need to take ownership” of the education system, Jones said. “Some people don’t like to do that.”

Indeed.

No ranking system is perfect, and standardized test scores don’t tell the whole story of a school or a student’s achievement. However, they are indications of how a school is doing, and the School District’s system is much more nuanced than a simplistic reliance on test scores. The new system will undoubtedly be tweaked as school officials find room for improvement, but what they’ve rolled out is a good start.

Teachers should support the plan. It provides a way to track student achievement from year to year, and that should encourage good teachers — their work should become evident.

We would hope that parents and others who have a clear stake in education, including the business community and the people whose names are on the schools, support this and work with Jones and his staff to improve the schools.

This ranking system and the push to improve student achievement is not, by any means, the only thing that needs to be done to improve education. For example, the state still has yet to invest in the schools — the amount of money spent in the classroom per-pupil is still far below other states. That needs to be addressed.

But what Jones is doing is a critical. By creating the new ranking system, the standard for achievement has been raised. We believe students can step up to the challenge. The question is if the community will.

•••

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  1. I think the opposition to competition is rather telling. If nothing else, the best are rewarded, and the bad (no, I won't pull my punch and say "under-achieving") can be identified for further assistance as needed.

  2. Sounds like a good idea, but it would be interesting to know what the costs are for the program, including how many personnel are dedicated to it.

  3. Ranking System? We don't need no Ranking System. We need effective teaching!

    This is high-level bureaucratic cosmetics when we need to change the ways we teach and measure the effectiveness of learning methods for each student. The correct measure is not of what the school is doing, or of what the teacher is doing, but what the student is achieving.