The latest state rankings for Mineral County schools were released earlier this month, and the results are mixed.
Hawthorne Junior high jumped from earning one star to three; but Hawthorne elementary school lost a star, falling to two, and Schurz elementary school stayed at one star.
Mineral County High School remained at two stars.
The state’s ranking system, unveiled earlier this year, score schools on a number of categories, including growth, achievement, and attendance.
The state also give each school a score for how well it reduces the gap between typically lower performing students — those on individualized education plans; learning English as a second language; and those who receive free or reduced-price lunch — and the average of all students statewide.
Schools are given a total score out of 100 points, called an index score. Schools with under 32 points are given one star. They are awarded additional stars at 33, 50, 68, and 77 points.
Schurz Elementary School is among the lowest performing schools in the state. It had an index score of 24. Five schools in the state had an index score of 24, and three had lower scores.
The score was unchanged from the year before.
SES performed poorly on all of the areas the state scores, but perhaps the area where it struggled the most was reading and English language arts. The schools’ score was based on 18 students’ test scores, about a third of the schools population.
None of those students met state proficiency standards.
“If reading is an area that the Schurz population is obviously struggling with, then why don’t we help them?”said Chris Schultz, Mineral County superintendent. “Why don’t we focus in on that?”
Schultz speculated that more intentional lesson plans might help improve reading and language arts scores at Schurz.
He also pointed to studies done outside the district that show students who enter kindergarten with strong reading skills score better on standardized tests than their peers, but those gains disappear by the time those students are in third grade.
The school also received zero points for gap reduction. State data shows 10.2 percent of Schurz students are on individualized education plans (six students) and 89.8 percent are on free or reduced-price lunch.
While these numbers account for every student at the school, it’s not clear how students, if any, that belong to both groups are counted.
“The numbers [of students enrolled] either need to grow in Schurz, or the Schurz kids need to look for more comprehensive education support at Hawthorne Elementary,” Schultz said. “You can’t sustain a school of 50 kids with five full time teachers and a full time principal. That’s crazy.”
Schultz also said class sizes may be an issue at Schurz, echoing a point he made in past interviews. Class sizes at Schurz are between eight and 15 students. Studies show students learn less in classes of less than 15 students, he said.
But not everything is doom and gloom for the Mineral County School District. The targeted interventions at Hawthorne Junior High School, the centerpiece of Schutlz’ plans to improve the district, appear have borne fruit.
Last year the school began requiring students it identified as struggling to stay for an extra hour of instruction. These targeted interventions, coordinated by Jessica Rowe, are set to expend this year to include Mineral County High and both elementary schools, Schultz said.
“We have kids who are not doing well and have never learned to do well,” Schultz said. “We can’t keep saying ‘There’s tutoring available.’ What good is that? They’re not going to stay an extra hour, they hate school, they’re not doing well. […] So last year, we started to intervene.”
HJHS’s index score more than doubled since the previous rankings, jumping from 27 to 58 and earning the school two additional stars.
The school made huge gains in all four categories the stat measures, increasing by 30 or more percent in each of the categories measured.
Michael Domagala, principal, said the credit for the increase goes to Walt Hackford, former principal, and the school’s teachers, who Domagala said worked “very hard throughout the year.” But, the primary factor, Domagala said, was the intervention program.
“It helped the kids stay organized, also it was an incentive,” he said. “The kids didn’t want to go an extra hour to school. So, it taught them to pay attention, do your work, and do it right. Get your grades up. We all know if our grades our up, we’re learning.”
Last year, tutors worked with students in science, English and social studies, Schultz said. State standardized tests show improvements in those areas, he said, and so does the data released last week.
By the end of the 2011-2012 school year 41 percent of students were at or above state proficiency in reading and language arts. After a year of the interventions, that number jumped to 66 percent.
In science 19 percent of students were proficient or better in 2011-2012. Last year 57 percent of students hit or exceeded the target.
In math, the results were less than stellar. Half of the students at HJHS met standards in 2011-2012. That number fell to 22 percent in 2012-2013.
The number fell, in part, because of the way the test is structured. The test questions didn’t get any harder, Schultz said, but the score needed for proficiency increased.
But, part of the decrease may come from the lack of targeted interventions in the subject, Schultz said. He said test scores were about the same at the school in math.
The increases in the other subjects are evidence the interventions are working, Schultz said.
“Forget about everything else,” he said. “We intervened with science and English and the scores went up. Not as much as we expected. Two to three times what the national norm is.”
Both Schultz and Domagala said the attitude has shifted at HJHS. After a few months of tutoring, students started to get excited to see their results on standardized tests — although Domagala noted this may have been because they didn’t want to stay after school anymore, and the test scores are one of the indicators that identify students for the interventions.
A Moving Target
Hawthorne Elementary School isn’t the only school in the district to see it’s score decline — Mineral County High School also lost about a point off its score — but it was the only school in the district to lose a star.
The most notable dip in performance was in the number of students meeting or exceeding proficiency standards in math. In 2012 59 percent of students met the state standard. Last year, only 38 percent hit the target. Its score dropped from 52 to 47.
That drop was enough to strip HES, already an edge case, of its third star.
Schools with a score of 50 or higher are awarded three stars.
Stephanie Keuhey, HES principal, said the drop was not the result of worse instructions — her teachers are working harder than ever, she said — but because the score students need to be proficient was raised by the state.
Keuhey said the change in standards came about when Nevada implemented the Common Core Standard, a program sponsored by the National Governors Association to bring state curricula into alignment with one another.
The district implemented the English and language arts portion of the standard in 2011-2012; and shifted its focus to the math portion last school year.
“Our students were struggling before to meet the Nevada state standards. We were hanging on right there at the line,” Keuhey said. “And then they implemented the Common Core, which raised the bar even more. So, we didn’t have time to close the gap before they rolled it out.”
The Common Core standard aims to have every student finish calculus by the end of high school, Keuhey said.
“What the teachers are having to do is learn how to teach in a completely different way and at a much higher level,” Keuhey said.
While the school’s drop is jarring, it doesn’t appear to show a major problem at the school. Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga said in a news release that the drop in scores in
Nevada schools was expected, and the trend is expected to continue.
And the other indicators show student achievement holding about steady at HES. English proficiency dropped from 60 to 57 percent, and science proficiency rose from 68 to 71 percent.
In June the state released star rankings from the 2011-2012 school year. These rankings were seen as a pilot so educators and the public could gain an understanding of the new system. The new rankings, released on Sept. 15, are from the 2012-2013 school year, and carry consequences.
The primary consequence appears to be paperwork and reports.
“One star schools have a lot of paperwork to do to demonstrate their school improvement plans,” said Schultz. “And they’re subject to some state support. Two stars schools have a little less state oversight, but they have a ton of paperwork to do.”
Schultz went on to say three star schools have “quite a bit” of paperwork to do from the state. Four- and five-star schools have progressively less.
Schultz said it was difficult to estimate how much paperwork is required of each school, but said it was voluminous and would require several man-hours to complete.
“In terms of making your life easy, you get to be a five-star school, your life’s a lot easier,” Schultz said.
As Mineral County schools continue to claw their way toward success, the state stands ready to provide assistance in any way it can.
“We face a challenge as we transition to new standards and new assessments,” Erquiaga said in the news release. “We will focus our support and interventions in schools with these transitions in mind.
“The Nevada School Performance Framework provides transparent and actionable information so that schools, educators and districts can better align programs and instruction to improve performance for all students. The [Nevada Department of Education’s] staff is prepared to support districts as they focus resources and interventions to the schools that need it most, and focus improvement and sustainability efforts on what matters most: preparing our students for college and career success.”
The full report on Nevada schools can be found NDE’s website, http://nspf.doe.nv.gov/.