The Nevada Department of Education on Sept. 16 released the 2013 Nevada School Performance Framework reports for public schools across the state.
The NSPF is a school accountability system that assigns a star rating to each school based on multiple measures of student achievement.
Statewide, 82 schools received a five-star rating, which is a decrease from 112 schools in 2012. Pahranagat Valley High School was one that dropped from a five to a four-star rating in 2013. Lincoln County High dropped from a four to a three.
Principal Marty Soderborg said the drop of one star does not mean LCHS is doing anything less than before, “It’s based on the testing, as to how the kids are doing. This is a transitional period right now, and we can trace the kids over the next number of years and judge how a class is when it comes in and see how far we need to take them. It’s all brand new, and I haven’t had a chance to look at all the data yet.”
The number of schools around the state with just a one-star rating is unchanged from last year, but more schools received a two-star rating.
The majority of schools in the state received a three-star rating. Those in Lincoln County with two-star ratings are Caliente Elementary, Pahranagat Valley Elementary, and Meadow Valley Middle School.
Those with three-stars are Lincoln County High, Pahranagat Valley Middle School and Pioche Elementary. Panaca Elementary received a four-star rating.
C.O. Bastian School at the Caliente Youth Center was not included in the ratings study.
The new framework uses data from the Nevada Growth Model, created after the 2009 state Legislature called for a better way to measure student success beyond simply looking at test performance. The model is geared toward looking at how individual students are progressing from year to year. This assessment of student growth is key, according to administrators.
One- and two-star schools, for example, are allowed to put more teachers in professional development training, are getting first crack at choosing from the teachers available for hiring and will be buffered more than the higher-performing schools from layoffs.
A complete list of school star ratings statewide is available on the NDE website at http://nspf.doe.nv.gov.
The new ratings are based, in part, on the state assessments administered to Nevada public school students in grades three through eight and grade 11 during the 2012-2013 school year.
In addition to student proficiency on assessments, schools are measured on student growth and the reduction of achievement gaps for special population groups (i.e., students who have disabilities, have English as a second language, or qualify for free and reduced lunch).
High schools are also measured on college and career readiness and graduation. Schools receive a star rating based on points achieved for these and other indicators.
“We can attribute the result of fewer schools receiving a five star rating to the fact that Nevada has steadily raised expectations for student achievement over the last few years as part of its education reform agenda,” said Superintendent of Public Education Dale Erquiaga. “We can anticipate a continued temporary downward trend in overall student proficiency as new and more rigorous standards and assessments are implemented, but we can also rest assured that our students will be better prepared. Parents and businesses should know that these star ratings present an increasingly accurate and forward looking picture of college and career readiness expectations.
Lincoln County School District Assistant Superintendent Steve Hansen said while the new ratings system might be a forward-looking picture, it has problems that he, and other educators in Lincoln County are not pleased with.
Hansen said one of the key factors in the rating is how well is any given school doing in showing growth in the categories of kids taking free and reduced lunches, English language learners, and special education students. “If those three sub-groups don’t show growth on the state tests, you’ll lose points.”
He said while Lincoln County does not have a large number of special education students, or students taking English as a second language. The district does have over 50 percent on free and reduced lunches.
“And your whole school has to show growth,” Hansen said. “It’s not just about meeting proficiency, you have to show growth in student achievement levels in the testing.”
In addition, Hansen said he was a bit frustrated by the fact the assessment of the Common Core curriculum doesn’t align with the Nevada Standards used for the testing. “The tests don’t align with what you are teaching.”
“What is happening,” Hansen explained, “is that the assessment the state has is way behind, and about three years out from getting things switched over so that it matches what we are required to teach. I think it is unfair that we are being held accountable on one thing, but the kids are being tested on another thing. The Department of Education is behind in transitioning the assessments to match Common Core.”
However, the district does not oppose the Common Core idea. “We’re moving to it,” Hansen said. “We’ve been having training all along to help our teachers understand the Common Core Standards and to begin to use them in the classroom.”
“In high school,” he said, “Common Core assumes you already have the basics of how to go deeper into subjects, use more critical thinking, know how to analyze more, so we are going to address those basics more strongly. Common Core really doesn’t address the basics very much. And, as a district, we are going to help teachers make sure they are covering the fundamentals in grades 1-6, and then meet the Common Core as well.”