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Las Vegas School Gets Accolades With a 55 Percent Grad Rate

What does it mean to be a high-achieving, turnaround high school? In Nevada, apparently, a high school can earn this honor even if it graduates little more than half of its students.

Valley High in Las Vegas is slated to be honored as a "high-achieving exemplary turnaround school" because it made adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act for two years running after years of failing to meet that target, and it delivered impressive gains in test scores.

But Valley High has a graduation rate of only 55.49 percent, according to figures provided by the Clark County school district. And that doesn't stand in the way of its honors. Because in Nevada, a high school must have a graduation rate of only 50 percent to make AYP on that "other indicator" that NCLB requires for high schools (the indicator that isn't test scores, in other words).

I don't want to rain on anyone's parade here. Valley High's test scores really did exceed state expectations. Under the state's accountability plan, 82 percent of a high school's students had to score proficient in English in 2008-09, and 62 percent had to do likewise in math to make AYP. At Valley High, nearly 92 percent cleared that bar in English, and nearly 80 percent did so in math. Quite an improvement from five years ago, when those figures were in the 40s and 50s.

But to be dubbed a high-achieving, turnaround school with a graduation rate of 55.49 percent? According to the state's definitions of its AYP designations, that honor requires certain improvements in test scores, but appears to make no additional demands on the graduation rate beyond what is required by AYP.

Sue Daellenbach, Clark County's assistant superintendent for assessment, accountability, research, and school improvement, said in an e-mail that the graduation rate has been a "struggle" at Valley, in part because 43 percent of its students are limited in their English proficiency. But she said the school has implemented a number of programs that are helping improve the graduation rate. (Only four in 10 students were graduating from Valley in 2006-07.)

Nevada is slated to make its official announcement about its schools' and districts' AYP status very soon. The data were released by Clark County for local board approval and submission to the state. The district announced Valley High's designation in anticipation of the state data release.

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