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Nevada takes on the challenge of preparing kids for the future

• ExcelinEd

Guest post by: Dale Erquiaga, Chief Strategy Officer, Executive Office of the Governor, Nevada

As seems to be the case so often in education policy, testing is back in the news lately with the Obama Administration’s thoughts on how we balance the number of tests with the genuine accountability needs for our schools. One thing we shouldn’t sacrifice in this important conversation is quality and rigor.

Nevada is a Smarter Balanced state and despite the problems we experienced in the 2015 test administration, we remain committed to higher standards, high-quality assessments, and “cut scores” that give families an accurate picture of student performance. For too many years, Nevada – like most states – offered families an imperfect view of how well or poorly their students were doing. Our criterion-referenced tests in grades three through eight indicated higher levels of student performance than NAEP results. We plan to change that with honest cut scores and rigorous assessments.

When I was the Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction I set out to be honest with families. It wasn’t an easy story to tell, but it needed to be told. Governor Brian Sandoval has made transparency and plain talk hallmarks of his administration – he has repeatedly said that Nevada families deserve to know the truth and deserve honest solutions to the challenges our schools face. He has been a champion for higher standards and rigor.

The Nevada State Board of Education has adopted the Smarter Balanced cut scores developed by the consortium. Nevadans participated in that process, just as representatives of all the member states did. Our Board recognized the need for a common benchmark among the states. And the Board rightly wanted results for families that are more in line with what we know to be true from years of NAEP testing – that Nevada students have a long way to go to catch up with their national and global peers.

We have real challenges with underperformance in our schools in Nevada. Governor Sandoval prepared and gained legislative support for a comprehensive budget and reform plan to address this problem. In order to fully address the needs of ALL students, we must maintain our commitment to lowering remediation rates when students continue their education after high school. We have to be honest about data like third grade reading scores and eighth grade readiness for high school. And we have to ensure that a high school diploma is a true sign of a student’s ability to meet the workforce needs of Nevada’s diversifying and globally-connected economy.

We know that meeting the challenges of underperformance and new workforce requirements will be difficult. But we also know that high standards and honesty in state assessments will help. Most important, we know that our students and educators can do the work and ensure Nevada meets these challenges so that the promise of opportunity offered by public education is available to all. I have every confidence that Governor Sandoval and his Department of Education will continue to support our students and their teachers in the years ahead!

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