Newspaper column: Test results reveal 90 percent of Nevada high schoolers unprepared for college

The Nevada Department of Education is reporting that 90 percent of state high school juniors are not college ready, largely unchanged from the previous year and probably the worst of any state in the nation, according to the most recent results of ACT testing.

We say probably because the nationwide results will not be released for another month, but ACT test results across the country have been remarkably and regrettably stagnant for years.

The ACT sets benchmark scores in each of four educational testing categories — English, math, reading and science. Failure to reach those benchmarks indicates a lack of college preparedness.

Only 10 percent of Nevada students achieved the benchmarks in all four categories, compared to 28 percent nationally this past year. Fully 60 percent of Nevada students failed to achieve benchmark scores in any category, compared to 31 percent nationally.

On the English test, 34 percent of Nevada high schoolers achieved the benchmark score of 18. In math, only 18 percent reached the benchmark of 22. In reading, 24 percent managed to surpass 22 points. In science, only 17 percent reached 23 points.

A benchmark score is the minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or better or about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or better in the credit-bearing college courses.

Nevada’s public school students posted a composite score of 17.4 out of a possible 36 on the ACT exam, unchanged from the previous year. In recent years the national average has hovered around 21 points.

Nevada has required all students to take the ACT in the past two years. In 2014 when only 36 percent of state students took the test the composite score was slightly above the national average at 21.2 — presumably those test takers were largely college-bound students. No state posted a composite score of less than 18.2 that year.

Only 14 states require all students to take the exam, but even among those Nevada comes up last when compared to the previous year’s percentage of students ready for college, according to data compiled by the Reno Gazette-Journal. The other 13 ranged from 13 percent college ready in Mississippi to 26 percent in Illinois.

Nearly 2 million high school students, about 60 percent of all high schoolers, take the ACT each year, making it highly reliable for cross-state and cross-district comparisons.

Nevada chose to administer the ACT to all students in 2014 and did away with high school proficiency exams students had needed to pass to graduate. Steve Canavero, Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a press release, “We knew then that we were not doing enough to prepare our students for college and career and we know now that we still have a long way to go. Nevada needs to use these results as the legislature, governor, and state board intended; as a statewide cry that our students deserve more and Nevada’s economy demands more.”

The state Education Department posted the percentage of students in each county who achieved benchmark scores in all four testing categories: Churchill, 7 percent; Clark, 9; Douglas, 16; Elko, 9; Eureka, 25; Humboldt, 8; Lander, 4; Lincoln, 6; Lyon, 6; Mineral, 3; Nye, 5; Carson City, 13; Pershing, 5; Storey, 0; Washoe, 13; White Pine, 6. A majority of counties saw college preparedness results drop from 2015 to 2016. Esmeralda County has no high school.

The state Education Department press release indicated that 2015 ACT results established a new baseline for student performance, and “with performance levels staying stable in the second year of testing, parents, teachers and students can feel confident in the foundation that has been established.”

One person’s stable is another’s stagnant, and last in the nation is the bottom rung from which to climb.

“It’s not the baseline we want for Nevada students,” Canavero said. “But, it’s the baseline we have and one I’m asking the state to rally around to change.”

The 2015 Legislature raised $1.5 billion in new taxes, much of that earmarked for public education, but much of that targeted the lower grades, meaning results, if any, will not be evident for years to come.

Over the past four decades, Nevada has increased public school funding by 80 percent per pupil, adjusted for inflation, but test scores have actually fallen slightly.

At the end of the month, the state Supreme Court will take up cases challenging the state law establishing education savings accounts that would allow parents to opt out of this failing system.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

This chart shows the percent in 2016 achieving benchmark scores as 9 percent, though the next chart reverses the numbers.

Davidson Academy is a Reno public school that accepts only the profoundly gifted. SPCSA are charter schools.

Cruz explains why he did not endorse Trump: It’s personal

Today Ted Cruz said he is not a ‘‘servile puppy dog,” explaining why he refused to endorse Donald Trump during his GOP convention speech Wednesday night.

Though he said he would not be criticizing or attacking Trump, Cruz said, ‘‘I’ll give you this response: I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father,’’ despite his vow during debates to support the party’s nominee.

‘‘And that pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, I’m going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and my father,’’ he added.

Trump made snide comments about Cruz’s wife’s appearance and suggested Cruz’s father had indirect ties to John F. Kennedy’s assassin. Cruz called Trump a ‘‘sniveling coward.’’

In other words, it’s personal.

Cruz did open his remarks by congratulating Trump on winning the nomination, but that was the last reference to Trump, adding after the applause, “And, like each of you, I want to see the principles that our party believes prevail in November.”

Toward the end of his speech Wednesday he said, “If you love our country, and love our children as much as you do, stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom, and to be faithful to the constitution.”

This was interrupted by chants of “endorse Trump,” to which Cruz replied, “I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation.”

Trump, appeared in the convention hall toward the end of Cruz’s speech, causing the cameras to focus on him instead of Cruz, later posted to Twitter: “Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn’t honor the pledge! I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!”

Hillary Clinton tweeted, ‘‘Vote your conscience.’’

Libertarians also jumped on the Cruz lack of endorsement for Trump, asking in a headline online, “Did Ted Cruz just endorse Gary Johnson?”

Nicholas Sarwark, chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, said, “I don’t agree with Senator Cruz on every issue, but this election is a job interview for the most important job in the country. His call to not stay home in November, to vote your conscience, to vote for the candidate who will defend the Constitution, is one that people should heed. If Americans look past names and party labels, the most honest, trustworthy, and qualified candidate is very clearly Gary Johnson. Maybe that’s why the delegates at his convention savagely booed his call to ‘vote your conscience.'”

Vice presidential pick Mike Pence’s  was largely ignored by the press, which focused on the Cruz slight.

Columnist uses front page spot to denigrate GOP convention speakers

I wonder whether the Las Vegas newspaper’s political columnist will go to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia next week and denigrate, contradict and call every speaker a liar on the front page, as he does with Republicans in Cleveland?

Today’s installment starts with a snipe at a Florida representative who wants to wean the nation off welfare because he once briefly was on food stamps. It then called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments on not filling a Supreme Court vacancy “possibly the lowest point of the convention thus far.” Then Ben Carson was called a liar with this self-contradictory commentary:

Hillary Clinton is not a follower of Lucifer, as Carson implied when it was his turn to speak at the big podium. It’s true that Clinton may have studied “Rules for Radicals,” a book by community organizer Saul Alinsky, which was dedicated to Lucifer, “the original radical.” But that’s a long walk around the block to imply that Clinton is the enemy of all good Christian values. (“I’m not politically correct,” Carson warned the crowd at the start of his remarks. Or even correct, for that matter.)

It concludes by suggesting Hillary Clinton would “govern cautiously as a moderate-to-liberal, modern Democrat,” as if that were a good thing.

The previous day’s column pilloried the mother of one of those killed in Benghazi, who dared to blame Clinton. “Donald Trump is everything Hillary Clinton is not,” the column quoted the mother as saying, followed by the commentary, “She may be right, although not in the way she intended.”

The tone in Philly will doubtlessly be one of brotherly love, if the owner of the paper can stand it that long.

Ben Carson speaking in Ohio. (R-J photo)

Can one really plagiarize a bunch of platitudinous pabulum?

What’s the big deal? So Melania Trump plagiarized some platitudinous pabulum from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech in her own convention speech. (Do a search for Melania and plagiarize and you’ll get dozens of hits.) The candidate, Donald J. Trump, as his wife calls him twice in a speech delivered with all the passion of someone reading the phonebook, hasn’t said anything original or substantive in the past year and half, why should we expect his current trophy wife to do so?

But the caterwauling and blame laying is at least entertaining. Though Melania claims to have written the speech herself, people are calling for the speech writer to be fired.

Melania ended by saying, “Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.” Wasn’t that plagiarized, too?

Michelle: “Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.”

Laura Bush: “Thank you, God bless you all, and God bless America.”

I wager if one searched hard enough you could find dozens of speeches intended to be inspiring that include the same threadbare cliches.

But would someone please tell me what big thinking is? “Yes, Donald thinks big, which is especially important when considering the presidency of the United States. No room for small thinking. No room for small results. Donald gets things done,” the potential first lady promised. “Our country is underperforming and needs new leadership. Leadership is also what the world needs.”

She also said, “Everyone wants change. Donald is the only one that can deliver it.” Perhaps she meant hope and change?



November presidential election will be one it which voters will be holding their noses

According to several recent national polls, including the latest from the Washington Post-ABC News, voters this fall will not be voting “for” a particular candidate but “against.”

Though Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 4 points in the poll, a majority of her supporters say the reason for choosing her is due to their opposition to Trump, and likewise for Trump voters who really oppose Clinton.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll show both candidates have net negatives:

Trump heads into the Republican convention with a 27 percent positive/60 percent negative score (-33) — remaining the most unpopular presumptive presidential nominee in the history of the NBC/WSJ poll.

But he’s followed closely by Clinton’s 34 percent positive/56 percent negative score (-22).

But that is just the head-to-head poll question, when you add in the Libertarian and Green candidates the result is: Clinton 42 percent, Trump 38 percent, Gary Johnson 8 percent and Jill Stein 5 percent.

That NBC News/Wall Street Journal four-way poll shows: Clinton gets 41 percent, Trump 35 percent, Johnson 11 percent, and Stein 6 percent.

No major poll, according to Real Clear Politics, thus far gives Johnson more than 13 percent and it takes 15 percent in five major polls for him to qualify for a spot on the national debate stage.

Will the GOP convention starting today give Trump a bounce?









Morning paper adding more Sunday pages and stuff it already has

Carved in the Temple of Apollo is the admonition: GNOTHI SEAUTON, Know Thyself.

First, the morning paper added two pages to the Sunday opinion section, without any announcement or fanfare nor any additional local content, nor personnel, so far as I can tell.

Now it is heralding the fact it is adding pages to the Sunday Business and Comics sections.

Among the new comics being added, the paper tells us in a front page announcement today, is Marmaduke. Funny, they are the funny pages, Marmaduke has been in the Sunday comics as long as I can remember. If they like it once, they’ll love it twice? Don’t read it myself, and apparently neither do the writers and copyeditors at the morning paper, but it’s there.

Math is also not a strong suit. The blurb says the comics section is adding 10 new titles, but lists 11.


On today’s front page.


From this past week’s comics section.





Editorial: Court should slap down public pension records trickery

There is contempt of court. There is contempt of Congress. But there should also be contempt of public.

This past week Nevada Policy Research Institute’s (NPRI) legal arm, Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation (CJCL), filed suit in district court in Carson City seeking to force the state Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) to release information about the taxpayer-funded pensions of retired public employees.

After the Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper sued under the public records law in 2013 and won in the Nevada Supreme Court, this information was disclosed for 2013 and 2014 and posted on NPRI’s website — names, former employer, years of employment, retirement year and pension amounts.

According to, in 2014 there were more than 1,000 Nevada state and local retirees receiving annual pensions in excess of $100,000. American Enterprise Institute found Nevada full-career PERS retirees fetch the most generous retirement checks of any state in the union — $64,000 a year on average or more than $1.3 million in lifetime benefits. That doesn’t include police and firefighters, who can retire earlier and generally have higher salaries.

But when NPRI filed a public records request for the same information this year for 2015, PERS had changed how it compiles the data. It replaced the names with Social Security numbers, making the data useless.

”By replacing names with ‘non-disclosable’ Social Security numbers in its actuarial record-keeping documents, PERS has attempted to circumvent the 2013 ruling of the Nevada Supreme Court requiring disclosure,” explained Joseph Becker, the director of CJCL.

After two years of disclosing the pension records, the bureaucrats at PERS apparently decided to nit pick a portion of that 2013 Supreme Court ruling that said, while public records must be disclosed, the agency has “no duty to create a new document by searching for and compiling information from existing records.” In order to circumvent the law, PERS altered its records.

But as Becker points out in his suit, there is a 2015 case out of the Nevada Supreme Court in which the court held that “when an agency has a computer program that can readily compile the requested information, the agency is not excused from its duty to produce and disclose that information.” LVMPD v. Blackjack

In an NPRI press release about the litigation, Becker is quoted as saying, “Not only has PERS attempted to re-engineer its record-keeping in a way that obscures from public view its critical financial instability — for which the taxpayers of Nevada are ultimately on the hook. PERS is also violating both the letter and spirit of the Nevada Public Records Act …”

The manipulation of the records by PERS is a clear act of contempt for the public, as well as the law and the courts.

The purpose of the public records law (NRS 239) is made abundantly clear by its opening paragraph: “The Legislature hereby finds and declares that:

“1. The purpose of this chapter is to foster democratic principles by providing members of the public with access to inspect and copy public books and records to the extent permitted by law;

“2. The provisions of this chapter must be construed liberally to carry out this important purpose;

“3. Any exemption, exception or balancing of interests which limits or restricts access to public books and records by members of the public must be construed narrowly …”

We urge the court to make short work of this naked effrontery.

A version of this editorial appears this past week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.