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The Story I Won't Write About Clark County Schools


In the beginning of the summer I pitched to my editors a story that I'd like to write this coming school year about how the Clark County school district in Las Vegas, Nev., met its adequate yearly progress goals overall for two school years in a row. This is a very unusual feat for a large urban school district. Even school districts in New York City and Brownsville, Texas, which have won the Broad Prize for Urban Education, have failed to make AYP as a district overall some school years.

But it turns out I won't visit the Clark County district and write about its successful run with AYP because the district announced last week that it failed to make AYP for the 2008-09 school year. The district's Web site doesn't speculate why this is the case. Local news stories, here and here, however, say that higher academic standards for elementary and middle school students and budget cuts are contributing factors.

It's still noteworthy that the district made AYP in 2007 and 2008. But in my news judgment, since the district wasn't able to continue its successful streak in terms of how the No Child Left Behind Act measures accountability, the story has less value for educators who are seeking model approaches to education.

I've visited Clark County schools twice for Education Week over the years to report on English-language learners and I know that group of students has presented a lot of challenges for the district. Many ELLs come from low-income families. Nevada is one of 10 states in the nation that doesn't provide any additional funding for English-language learners beyond what it provides for regular students, according to the EPE Research Center. The school district also struggles to keep teenagers in school, given the opportunities for them to work in jobs related to Las Vegas casinos, though some of those jobs may have dried up given the economic downturn.

But not all the news about accountability for this past school year was bad news. Today, the Las Vegas Sun features Valley High School in Clark County for being named a "high-achieving turnaround" school under the No Child Left Behind Act.


More than relying on largely uninformative links like the massive "Y/N" fest provided by the link to Clark County, it might help to go deeper than the simple Y/N boxes of that link and actually find out the reason Clark didn't "pass"?

I spent a little more time going to the Nevada DOE site and did find that the AMOs for this year are just about the same as in the last 2-3 years...

Elementary Middle
ELA Math ELA Math
2006-07 39.6% 43.3% 39.6% 43.3%
2007-08 51.7% 54.6% 51.7% 54.6%
2008-09 51.7% 54.6% 51.7% 54.6%
2010-11 63.8% 65.9% 63.8% 65.9%
2011-12 75.9% 77.2% 75.9% 77.2%
2012-13 88.0% 88.5% 88.0% 88.5%
2013-14 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%

Note: If Clark County thinks this year was tough...wait until next year. Looking at the above, the argument they "failed" this year due to higher standards doesn't make sense (although, obviously, other factors like test construction, cut scores, etc. might have played a role).

Having read (and become a bit obsessed by) the Fordham's Institute's Accountability Illusion, I'm interested in going beyond "Y/N" and really breaking this stuff down. Perhaps Education Week could do the same.

Thanks for your work, and I look forward to more.


If the tests are legitimate and the students really are ESOL students then they can't make AYP. The whole testing industry and laws regarding them are misguided.

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