The NAEP scores – commonly called the nation’s school report card – came out a few weeks ago. Nevada’s scores were 43rd in the nation. That was actually flat compared to the previous scores, but still… 43rd.
But wait, says Matthew Chingos, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. People are looking at the scores all wrong. It’s not the ranking, it’s the growth based on the characteristics of our students that we should be looking at. And if you look at the growth, then Nevada rocks!
Taking demographic factors into account, we actually come in 33rd. OK, 33rd. But we’re the fastest growing state in the country in terms of our scores.
Chingos' report Breaking the Curve: Promises and Pitfalls of Using NAEP Data to Assess the State Role in Student Achievement, elucidates how Nevada is doing so well while doing do poorly.
Basically, he says that there are characteristics of students who do not score well on the NAEP. Those include family income, number of books in the home, education of parents, whether the student speaks English fluently, and a whole host of others.
“So, ask not what is the average score in Nevada versus the average score in Massachusetts, but how does each kid in Nevada do relative to similar kids around the country,” Chingos explained.
Chingos says we need to take those characteristics into account when scoring states on their education quality. States with a lot of immigrants, for instance, are facing different challenges than states in which a high percentage of people who speak English.
And Chingos' numbers show how Nevada is handling its diverse population better than it has in the past.
“Nevada should be proud of the fact that things are getting better over time but also be motivated by the fact that there is still a lot of work to do,” he said.
Seth Rau is the former director of Nevada Succeeds, and he has a very clear perspective on Nevada's schools.
“In my opinion, it is still not enough. The fact that the student average even after you weight it for demographics is still below the national average and the overall is still well below the national average I find that to be unacceptable,” he said.
He agreed that Nevada is getting better but "it hasn’t been enough to create an average education system let alone an above average one."
Rau said Nevada is still feeling the impact of its explosive growth over the past 25 years.
He said the state, and especially Clark County, was so eager to build enough schools and get enough teachers in front of classrooms and enough principals in offices that it didn't have time to think about the quality of the education.
To fix the state's system, Rau believes there are a lot of things to be done from finding, hiring and keeping quality teachers to improving the training for principals.
He also thinks getting at the root problem of students who come to class not ready to learn will help.
“It is a full picture," he said, "We need to focus on in-school and out-of school factors to make sure we are ultimately accommodating our students”
Chingos said it takes all levels of government from quality instruction in local schools to state efforts to the federal government.
“We have to work on these problems on all levels," he said.
Matthew Chingos, senior fellow at the Urban Institute; Seth Rau, legislative coordinator for the San Antonio Independent School District and former director of Nevada Succeeds
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