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The Tests are too Hard

By Michael Blain

Low test scores have plagued school districts and teachers alike across the country since the inception of standardized testing.  From the teacher’s viewpoint, it takes away from their ability to customize a curriculum that best utilizes their strengths and chosen methods as an educator because they must be primarily concerned with covering the material that is specifically on the tests.  On the student side, the current state of the world only seems related on any level to education up until high school and the lessons doled out up until graduation feel spurious at best to the students because of the endless technologically obtainable information that is constantly at their fingertips.

Clark County School District has become notoriously known as “one of the worst school districts in the country,” and although it may be directly linked to the countrywide facets mentioned in theprevious paragraph, it has become common knowledge and an often repeated opinion.  CCSD has attempted numerous times to affirm that the problem applies to all of Nevada, but consistent negative opinions will lead any observer to believe otherwise.

In 2011, the Criterion Reference Test and the Nevada High School Proficiency Exam illustrated a significant drop in reading test scores for all grades with the exception of the fifth grade.  Administrators claim that this drop can be attributed to the increased difficulty of the tests themselves and more rigorous grading standards.  If this was directly the case, then a bell curve should apply, but seeing as how less than half of tenth graders (48 percent to be exact) passed the reading portion of the NHSPE on their first try, the problem cannot possibly lie solely within the test itself.

One major alteration of the tests was with the transitional cut scores which went up to 300 from 251 on the reading portion.  The state lowered the transitional cut scores for the math section and thesignificant rise in failures was mitigated.  Shifting the focus away from what some may call a ‘more difficult subject’ is not a solution to an expanding problem in overall education and knowledge retention.

To make matters even worse, during this year Nevada will go to an even higher standard of testing called the Common Core Standards.  43 states have already voluntarily adopted the Common Core Standards for their testing, but it is not stated anywhere publicly whether Nevada willingly chose this change or are being federally coerced into it already knowing it will most likely further shine a spotlight on the shortcomings of their school districts.

While many school officials in CCSD have stated that they are enthused about the performance of the fifth graders, this does nothing whatsoever to alleviate the concerns regarding test failures all theway up to and including the NHSPE.  If a better infrastructure and maybe even a sort of positive pressure that students will actually respond to is not implemented with haste, CCSD will continue to be the laughing stock of education across this wonderful country that we call home.