“Quality Counts” for All Nevada Learners

The latest installment of Education Week’s annual “Quality Counts” report had a good story to tell about Nevada schools. And we can sure use it – the first month of school has been one tough news cycle after another for Nevada education generally, as news coverage goes.

In one year, according to the weekly education policy publication of record, Nevada’s overall rating’s for rate of growth blew past the annual scores for California and the District of Columbia – big news for Nevadans who fear negative influences coming from their mighty neighbor to the West. Good news indeed.

This new analysis is based on trends through the 2017 administration of the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), the test known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Nevada’s eighth graders improved their proficiency rates in math by 7.3 percent and their reading proficiency by 7.5 percent between 2003 and 2018, the analysis notes. Put in perspective, this means that at least one in four eighth grade students in Nevada demonstrated scores at grade level in both reading and math – a healthy step below the state average nationally, but progress nonetheless.

Good news is good news, and the hardworking educators making Nevada education happen everyday can always use more of it.

When viewed through the prism of equity of educational opportunity for all children, however, the bright, splashy headlines begin to fade and the picture becomes informative for policymakers seeking directions to build on the improvements.

At the other, lower, end of the student achievement spectrum on NAEP lies the “Below Basic” category of student skills. Students demonstrating below basic skills in reading in math show that they lack “partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at a given grade.” In reading, for students entering high school, this means that they are unprepared to find information in a document or make connections between simple concepts in two different texts.

Half of all Nevada eighth graders eligible for the National School Lunch Program scored at Below Basic levels in math in 2017. In reading, that number was one in three.

When viewed through a prism of race, this picture also remains discouraging. In Math, one in five white eight grade students scored below basic in math, while two in five of their Hispanic classmates, and three of five black classmates, scored below basic.

In reading, one in three Hispanic eighth graders scored at below basic, while 44 percent of their black classmates did (white students performed about the same as in math).

For eighth grade students below the level of basic skills in reading and math, it matters little whether preparation for college or career is their schools’ stated goal – our system of education has placed them at extreme risk of dropping out without having acquired the skills our education experts believe necessary for them to succeed.

Surely, Nevada’s education and political leaders deserve their moment, courtesy of the Education Week editorial staff, to celebrate their long-in-coming victory over California.

And then it’s time for us to all get back to work, with the goal of providing meaningful educational opportunities for all Nevada learners.