Nevada’s fourth- and eighth-graders lagged behind many states in math and reading skills according to a U.S. Department of Education report.
The Nation’s Report Card is an assessment based on a standardized test given every two years to a sample of students around the country. Nevada is one of 11 states and the District of Columbia to score lower than the national proficiency in math and among 14 that scored lower than the average in reading proficiency.
“We are not making the gains I would like to see, but we are not losing ground,” State Superintendent Dale Erquiaga said. “As we continue to implement important education reform strategies and more rigorous academic standards in Nevada, I expect to see positive results.”
At a local level, White Pine County School District Superintendent Bob Dolezal said the tests don’t provide much information or guidance for the school district going forward.
“Not every student takes the test,” Dolezal said. “What happens here is we usually have one grade level either at the elementary school or middle school picked for this. For example, in White Pine Middle School they pick one class and administer the test to them.”
The school district does not receive results of how each individual did or how the county’s students did as a whole.
“We don’t see those individual results and we don’t see the school results,” Dolezal said. “It comes back as a state composite. I understand why they do it to compare Nevada to other states and at the international level, but it really doesn’t do us a lot of good because they don’t segregate that data down to a district level.”
Coupled with the small sample size of students from the White Pine County School District, and the results from the Nation’s Report Card do little to help WPCSD going forward.
“What we really have is an assessment of Clark County and Washoe County,” Dolezal said. “If they are doing really well and we’re doing poorly, that’s being hidden in the data and vice verse. It’s not data that we can use to make changes at a local level.”
The school district is in the midst of converting to the Common Core Standards, which places an emphasis on using technology and is requiring school districts to rewrite its curriculum.
“The biggest difference in these standards is the way teachers have to teach and how students are tested,” Dolezal said. “Where all of us were usually tested with multiple choice tests, these are asking more insightful questions, more essay type questions. Where you and I took paper tests most of the time, students are taking computer adaptive tests where no student in the room sees the same questions in the same order.”
The push for technology has already begun with White Pine Middle School and White Pine High School using pilot programs to give students access to Chromebooks. The goal is to have Chromebooks for every student in middle school and highs school by the end of the 2014-15 school year.
Using new technology is also requiring teachers to alter the way they instruct students, Dolezal said.
“I was a high school social studies teacher before I became an administrator,” Dolezal said. “I was considered a pretty good social studies teacher, but I was a lecturer and discussion type of instructor. If I was going into a classroom today and use the same strategy, I wouldn’t be nearly as successful because we are moving away from kids gaining knowledge to learning how to acquire the right data and the right information.”
As WPCSD looks ahead to the Common Core Standards, Dolezal said he believes the school district is doing everything it can to provide students a quality education.
“I think it’s a real exciting time in education,” Dolezal said.