Vegas News

NEVADA VIEWS: Make student achievement a priority

The Clark County School District needs a major reboot that identifies student learning as the No. 1 priority.

Basic issues that need immediate attention in order to improve student achievement include policies on promotion/placement, grading, testing, restorative discipline and ensuring that teachers have a viable and affordable health care system.

We set students up for failure by automatically moving them to the next class or grade without the knowledge and skills needed to be successful. Currently, we have students taking Algebra 2 who do not know basic math facts — that is not an exaggeration. Not only does that set students up to fail, it sets teachers up to fail.

Students need to earn their way into classes by acquiring the knowledge and skills to be successful. Without those necessary prerequisite skills, they are set up for failure despite a passing grade and they negatively impact students who are doing their best to succeed in the these courses.

That brings us to grading. Because graduation rates are used as a primary criteria in grading a district, teachers are under pressure not to fail students so they can graduate. To hide this problem, the district this year unveiled a new policy that allows students to retake chapter tests as many times as they want until they get the grade they want. At the district level, the district semester exams under the last three superintendents went from not being published to not being reported to voluntary and, finally, to simply not given.

Those decisions — made for public relations purposes — do not serve our students well.

Clearly, the public is being misled about student performance so graduation rates look better. If the public were able to compare grades to semester exams and to ACT/SAT scores, the false public relations campaign would be exposed.

Violence in schools is a major issue. Safety is the No. 1 reason parents take their kids out of public schools. Not only are students being hurt, so are teachers and staff. Restorative discipline policies implemented by district officials are clearly not holding students accountable for bad or threatening behaviors. That has severe consequences not only for physical altercations but also for teachers trying to conduct classes with students who refuse to let other students learn. A lack of consequences has consequences.

Nevada has experienced a documented teacher shortage in math since 1985. Because of all of the above and the pandemic, the teacher shortage has been exacerbated and now extends to most subject areas. With not enough teachers or substitutes, teachers are being asked to cover other classes in which they have no qualifications, which reduces their time to get their own work done. The district already had one of the highest student-teacher ratios in the country. Many teachers are even more overwhelmed with the extra assignments.

All these extra stresses come at a time when the teacher health plan is just terrible. Medical bills are not being paid and turned into collection, health practitioners won’t take teachers as patients and deductibles and co-pays have skyrocketed. Teachers are leaving the profession — others are leaving for the safety of private or charter schools that don’t put up with students who won’t conform to basic school norms.

These are the first issues the district must address to get our schools back in order and place student learning as a priority. We need a superintendent whose first priority is student achievement and who will eliminate anything interfering with that goal.

Bill Hanlon, a former member of the state Board of Education, was the coordinator of the Clark County School District’s Math/Science Institute and is former director of the Southern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program.

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