By Selwyn Harris
The Nye County School District board of trustees were presented with multi-year strategies on how to improve student achievement throughout the district.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kim Friel told the board Tuesday evening that the state-mandated plans must be implemented each year.
She also noted that the focus of the improvement plan is essentially the refining of systems directly related to classroom instruction that will positively affect student achievement.
“They are actually three-year plans. The first year you create the plan and the next two years you work with that plan, tweak it to make sure everything is going well and on the fourth year you start again. So we are actually in year two of our plan. The goals are the same goals that we had last year,” she said.
The goals include improving student achievement and proficiency levels, sustaining practices that increase graduation rates and reduce dropout rates, and finally, maintaining a safe learning environment.
Friel also said she will provide more detailed information on the goals during a future board meeting.
“I will have an update as to how we met the action steps to the mid point of the year and then each month we will update at that point as well,” she said. “The Nevada Department of Education has to change and update the improvement plan. The name will change and it will become the ‘performance plan.’ It is more how you are performing and not do you need to improve.”
Another change Friel conveyed to the board was the elimination of Adequate Yearly Progress AYP , which is a measure of how every school district in the state performs academically on standardized tests.
“We will no longer have AYP, but we will look at growth and we will look at how we are meeting students’ needs, how students are catching up, and how they are keeping up. The schools are also going to be required to conduct a comprehensive curriculum audit, which we have already started so we are ahead of the game on that,” she said.
Board President Traci Ward noted that the new state superintendent, James Guthrie, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval earlier this year, wants to implement even more changes to Silver State education.
Ward said Guthrie is looking at teacher performance as it relates to their respective salaries.
“He wants to have performance pay, which we know is an ineffective way to motivate people. People are happiest when they have a good work environment. Even if the pay is low, they are willing to stay. He wants to fund that by making classroom sizes larger. My question is just how large does he think they have to be when we already have some of the largest class sizes in the nation? It is frustrating,” she said.
Friel cautioned that one must consider several factors, including class sizes, when determining graduation rates in Nevada and comparing the results to other states.
“You have to look at the graduation rate for the state of Nevada in a different way than you look at graduation rates in other states. Every state has their own formula for how they look at graduation rates. You would think that the graduation rates would be based upon a student enrolled in the school district; a student graduated but that is not how it is done.
“There’s a formula that goes into it. In our formula, it is probably one of the harshest and strictest formulas among the 50 states. When you see that we have the lowest graduation rate, that is true but we also have the strictest guidelines for graduation and for getting our kids through school,” she said.
Friel noted that efforts are underway to have a more balanced approach when looking at graduation rates.
“That would go along with the common core standards. With the common core standards, they would have the same standards of education, graduation, and everything else,” Friel said.
The assistant superintendent also said that the fact a student drops out of school does not necessarily mean they did not graduate.
“If you drop out and you come back through adult education, then you graduate. The dropout rate does not always equate to the graduation rate. There is also a huge correlation between funding and the graduation rate.
“We have the lowest funding in the United States but that also determines the amount of funding the federal government will give you. If they don’t see that you are willing to fund education at a higher rate, then they are not willing to give you more money,” she said.
Friel provided an example of the apparent imbalance of monies that some southern states receive from the government.
“They fund way beyond what their means are and therefore the federal government comes in and will give them more money for special populations. Not necessarily special education students, but more like ELL foreign language students and the student populations who receive free and reduced lunches,” she said.