Clark County, Las Vegas, Make Gains on NCLB Benchmarks

Thanks to a waiver from the federal government, Nevada public schools no longer have to meet the benchmarks set out by the No Child Left Behind Act — but recent data has shown that the Silver State has managed to keep up with them anyway.

For over a decade, the state’s school districts worked to meet the 2014 100% literacy and math proficiency deadline set out by NCLB, and over that time a growing number of schools fell short of the adequate yearly progress measure. While 60% of schools met that marker in 2008-09, only 45% did so in 2010-11.

But just as the state is beginning to transition to its own accountability system set out in its approved waiver application, the downward NCLB trend seems to be reversing.

Last school year, 49 percent of the state’s 688 public schools passed No Child Left Behind, which represents an increase of 4 percentage points. It was a remarkable improvement for a state that will soon replace No Child Left Behind with its own education accountability system by next school year.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, most of these gains were fueled by improvements in the achievement of Clark County School District students. Thanks to a jump in test scores and graduation rates, the number of schools who managed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) rose by 3% last year, adding up to a total of 43%. Although this is good news, it’s hard to argue that even these improvements would have allowed the district to meet the 2014 goal to have 100% of its students performing at grade level in mathematics and English by the close of next academic year. This year, only 156 out of the district 368 schools were on track to hit the benchmark.

It’s difficult to meet these targets because, under No Child Left Behind, schools had to demonstrate achievement in all student subgroups. Failure to show improvement among any student group — even challenging ones such as English Language Learners or special education students — means that the entire school fails.

This all-or-nothing policy became a source of frustration for educators, who complained their students were making immense strides but still didn’t quite make the proficiency cuts.

Even with the raft of last-minute good news, education leaders in Clark County and the rest of the state were relieved when their NCLB waiver application was approved earlier this year. With the waiver in place, Nevada now has an opportunity to implement an accountability system that is more suited to its particular circumstances.