By Selwyn Harris
Some bleak news for high school students in Nevada.
A new study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education shows that the Silver State’s high school graduation rate remains among the lowest in the nation.
The agency released the four-year graduation rates of 47 states where Nevada posted a 62 percent graduation rate for the 2010-11 school year.
That number however was slightly better than that of the nation’s capital, which posted a 59 percent graduation rate.
Nye County School District NCSD Superintendent Dale Norton said the rate demonstrates how state and federal educational funding is the difference between marginal and high performing schools.
“We are also the lowest funded state in the nation, too, and I think that has some correlation. But there are a lot of initiatives being done with federal mandates and state mandates. I just came from a statewide assessment summit put forward by Nevada Superintendent Dr. Jim Guthrie and the governor’s office with some Nevada legislatures, superintendents, and district staff.
“We were looking at what it’s going to take to make education better for our students in the state of Nevada with current funding. We know that there is probably not going to be more funding sources. What we are going to do is look at what is working, what is not working, and what we can do to put the best things out there and get the best results for our students,” he said.
Along with the anemic graduation rate, Norton said another concern is the dropout rate, which he suggests, is also connected.
He noted that there is a different criteria to determine what exactly a dropout is and it’s important to make sure the criteria is accurate.
“There are students that get their adult education diplomas and are dropouts. There are students that don’t pass their proficiency exams but get their adult education diploma that are dropouts. There are students who are special needs that get adjusted diplomas that also fall into that dropout category because it is not a standard high school diploma. It depends on what formula or what the process is that they are using for dropout and graduation rates, but we are bound by whatever the state tells what we have to do,” he said.
According to the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, American schools will begin implementing new methods of measuring graduation rates to maintain a higher level of accuracy.
“By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed. Ultimately, this data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready.” he said in a press release.
Norton also remarked on what usually becomes of those students who opt to drop out of high school rather than buckling down and earning their diploma.
“We had that conversation around the table during the summit. I personally know kids who actually found their niche in being a mechanic, plumber, or a carpenter or whatever field that they go into. When they learn a skill, they may stick with that skill and be very comfortable and successful with it whether they got their high school diploma or not. The probability of someone not having their high school diploma and being above the poverty rate is not highly likely unless they can get some additional training along the way in a particular company or business,” he said.
Norton also noted that other factors such as student/teacher ratios play a role in the success of students.
He said many teachers are doing the best they can with the resources they have.
“During professional development at Pahrump Valley High School, and what I heard teachers telling me was that they get more, and more, and more put on their plate and are getting nothing, nothing, and nothing taken off of their plate. We are getting higher class sizes, higher expectations, and want better results and not once did I hear them complaining about they are not getting raises. In fact, they got 2 percent taken away from them, but the bar is rising faster than we can keep up with it,” he said.
Norton said parents also need to play a major role in their kid’s education and not depend entirely on the schools.
“Every parent or guardian should have high expectations for the educational value for their child. I have said more than once though that parents and particularly students will get out of their education what they put into it,” he said.
On the issue of testing, Norton said there is definitely room for improvement throughout the district.
“We always can do better. The bar was raised this last year for Annual Yearly Progress AYP standards. We did not make the gains that I would have liked to have seen us make. We have a new performance framework coming in play for next year and we are working diligently on that and as we move along, we will have more information on that coming in January. We will see how our schools fare under the new ratings system which is different than AYP,” he said.
Norton said the future of proficiency exams in the district might be an issue as they relate to Nevada high school students and if the state will continue to use the exams to rate performance.
“That has not been determined yet and I don’t know the status of that, so we are status quo until we are told otherwise,” he said.
Assistant Superintendent Kim Friel did not return calls for comment on graduation rates; however, NCSD Board of Trustees President Traci Ward said the new growth model Norton was referring to does not remove any testing requirements.
“It changes the way the results are calculated. At present, there are more than 30 sub-populations that we have to break out and look at test scores to determine AYP. Every sub-population has to meet the test score goals. Let’s say the test score goal on the writing proficiency test is 90 percent of all students must pass the test, if one student is on Free and Reduced Lunch, an English Language Learner, Chinese and a Special Education student and fails the proficiency exam, this student counts against the school as four different students. Every student is supposed to have the exact same proficiency level as every student in his or her grade,” she noted.
The U.S. Department of Education outlined the demographics and cultural makeup, which revealed achievement gaps among Nevada students from different backgrounds.
White and Asian students demonstrated higher graduation rates than black and Hispanic students sometimes by a 30-point percentage.
The study showed that on average, 71 percent of white students graduated high school while just 43 percent of black students earned their diplomas.
Roughly 53 percent of Hispanic students graduated in 2010-11.
Alaska Native and Native American students maintained a 52 percent graduation rate, while 74 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander students finished high school.
Nationally, Iowa had the best graduation rate at 88 percent followed by Wisconsin and Vermont at 87 percent.
Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas posted an 86 percent graduate rate.