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.

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8 comments on “Newspaper column: Test results reveal 90 percent of Nevada high schoolers unprepared for college

  1. Bruce Feher says:

    I hope the pending court case regarding ESAs take this into consideration.

  2. Rincon says:

    Nevada’s a red state. I’m not sure, but I think I read somewhere that children in red states don’t do as well academically as those in blue states. I couldn’t find it right away on line, but I did find this:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289609000051

    There is a rebuttal though: https://www.aei.org/publication/are-conservatives-really-less-intelligent/

    Probably not terribly meaningful, but I just couldn’t resist poking a little fun.

  3. According to the SOS, as of January there were 471,342 active registered Dems and 423,308 registered GOPs.

  4. According to AP, the gap as of June, prior to primaries, grew to 70,000 in favor of Dems.

  5. Rincon says:

    Ya got me pal! Nice comeback.

  6. Esa’s and real school choice is the only thing that can begin to unravel this problem. As long as the Democrat politicians and the teacher’s unions have their finger in the pie…it will continue to deteriorate as it has been…even after barrels of money have been thrown at it and wasted. It’s an embarrassment quite frankly. But hey…transgenders can go to any bathroom and locker room they choose (all six of them) and to the Dems and School Administrators…this is success!

  7. […] week the administrators of the ACT test confirmed what was suspected a month ago when preliminary data were released, Nevada high school students are dead last in the […]

  8. […] past week the administrators of the ACT test confirmed what we suspected a month ago when preliminary data were released, Nevada high school students are dead last in the […]

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