A couple of weeks ago The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2017 report was released by ACT. The report looks at how well students who took the 2016-2017 ACT are prepared for college and a career. It also breaks down the report by state.
Nevada did not score very well on this year’s ACT. The average composite score for Nevada students was 17.8 out of 36 points. Why does this matter?An average of 17.8 means that most of the students who took the test in Nevada are ill prepared for college or a career. The lowest score considered ready for either is generally in the range of 19-21, depending upon the subject-area benchmark.
Most states in America do not require all students to take the ACT, which generally results in only college-bound students participating. Last year, Nevada was one of 17 states that required all high school graduates to take the ACT. This is a good thing. Although it usually results in a lower average score for the state, giving each student the opportunity to take the ACT has advantages. It signals that the state is committed to measuring Nevada’s students against their peers nationwide, and it helps further cultivate a state value around the importance of knowing how well our students are prepared for college and careers. What we do with this information is even more critical.
Even among the states where every student takes the test, Nevada had the lowest score. What does this mean? The ACT establishes benchmarks for where students should be in each of the testing areas: 81% of Nevada’s students did not meet the science benchmark; 79% did not meet the math benchmark; 73% did not meet the reading benchmark; and 62% did not meet the English benchmark.
This is concerning for many reasons, but chiefly because the state’s high school graduation rate in 2016 was 72.6%, which was an increase of almost two points from 70.9% in 2015. Clark County School District’s graduation rate in 2016 was 74.2% and 70.9% in 2014.
So, while both the state and district graduation rates are climbing,the average percentage of students meeting each benchmark in Nevada does not line up. If we are graduating more than 70% of our students, but only 40% of them are college or career ready, there is a problem. This is a warning signal that we have to be very honest about our gains/increases in graduation rates.
Reported gains in graduation rates mean little if our students are unprepared for the world after high school. If we are committed to not just raising graduation rates, but raising them in ways that ensure the students who are graduating are ready for college and career, we must establish policies that support the educators in teaching and leading in schools across our state.
When we look at the most successful systems in the world, we see that they have an understanding of the importance of and, perhaps most importantly, a commitment to ensuring that the educators are not just held to high standards, but are supported to reach those standards. I recently participated in a webinar that is part of the Empowered Educators series sponsored by The National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). One of the many things that stood out to me was that in most of these successful systems educators are actually spending less time in the classroom teaching than they do in the US. In the time that these teachers are not in the classroom, they are working with colleagues to plan lessons, mentoring or being mentored, engaging in research projects (75% of teachers in Shanghai are published in peer-reviewed research journals, for instance), and engaging in other professional components of being an educator.
So, how do we model a system like these in a US, and more specifically, a Nevada context? The first step is acknowledging the importance of ensuring the system is designed to be the best it can be to support teachers. We can and should ensure that every teacher is able to participate in a formalized mentorship program. Nevada Succeeds has supported Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) since it was brought to Nevada, and we believe it must be expanded to every school in the state.
We should also prioritize giving educators more time to develop their research and professional expertise by reducing the amount of time they must spend in the classroom. This in particular is not an easy (or popular) thing to say given that in CCSD alone there is more than a 400 teacher shortage and a massive budget deficit right now, but if we don’t acknowledge and set goals for where we would like to be, we will never get there.
Additionally, we must ensure that everyone who is in the classroom is able to work together as effectively as possible. We must ensure that paraprofessionals specifically have a path (if they want it) to become a fully licensed teacher. This could mean a change in how we license both teachers and paraprofessionals.
It is absolutely imperative that every student, in every school in every grade, has a qualified, effective team of educators ensuring that when they graduate from Nevada’s schools, they are ready to step into the next phase of their lives. This is a state-wide problem that can only be addressed by identifying and solving the systemic issues keeping Nevada from attracting, retaining and developing these educators. We believe that our students and educators are capable of rivaling the best in the world. But to get there, the system has to be designed to support them.