Nevada Develops Comprehensive Student Progress Tracking System

Published October 31, 2011

Nevada is implementing a new data system to track student progress over time and pinpoint the state’s best and worst teaching practices and teachers.

Measuring student academic growth through grades and classes differs from measuring proficiency in one subject at one point in time. State educators and lawmakers hope to use the Nevada Growth Model of Achievement (NGMA) to learn more about what educational practices work best and for what students, and to inform future policy decisions.

“In the last 50 years, Nevada has nearly tripled inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending while educational achievement has remained stagnant,” said Victor Joecks, communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute. “Instead of rewarding the best teachers and encouraging excellence, much of that extra money has been wasted on ineffective teachers. Properly implemented, the Nevada Growth Model offers schools a chance to increase student achievement without spending more, by identifying the best teachers and either improving their worst teachers or encouraging them to find a different profession.” 

Growing Trend
Approximately ten states use a growth model of student assessment, and another “ten to fifteen” are considering doing so, said Damien Betebenner, a senior associate at the consulting group Center for Assessment who is helping develop the model. Clark County School District, the state’s largest, unanimously agreed to use the growth model this year.

“It’s best to build a comprehensive accounting system that doesn’t just look at a single factor but uses data to look at it comprehensively. You see these uses of data going in different directions in different states,” Betebenner said.

Measuring Student Growth
Assembly Bill 14, passed in 2009, required the Nevada Department of Education to create a statistical model for grades three to eight, measuring student growth year-over-year. NGMA will be integrated into the state’s current assessment system.

“Data can be a window and a mirror, where it is first a window to what is going on in the world around us,” Betebenner said. “Once we understand the data, it becomes a mirror with which we better understand what we are doing.”

Since fall 2009 the department has been developing its model, applying it to math and reading for elementary and middle school students, and determining growth targets. In fall 2011 the department began expanding the model to high school and PreK-2 and evaluating potential uses for the resulting information. 

“Data can be used in good and in dumb ways, so the real test in the next ten years is understanding [it] and looking in different states to [see] how they are using the data,” Betebenner said.

Impacts on Teachers, Teaching
While students are tracked, teachers will feel the impact—Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has appointed a Teachers and Leaders Council to apply the model to teacher evaluations. The council will submit recommendations by June 2012, and the State Board of Education must adopt related regulations by June 2013.

“Because teacher quality is the most important, school-controlled factor in student achievement, it is imperative that we know who our best teachers are,” Joecks said. “Done right, the Nevada Growth Model offers a fair and meaningful way to see which teachers are the best at helping their students learn.”

The Council may yet blunt the model’s potential for accurately evaluating by instituting low or nonexistent standards, Joecks warns.

Stats Just a Start
Sandoval said he will continue pursuing education reforms after several were blocked in the last legislative session. Nevada students failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress in math and reading on its own tests under No Child Left Behind in 2010-2011, and filed for a federal waiver of the law’s consequences.

“Ultimately, we need school choice, like opportunity scholarships, for every child, to allow parents to pick the best school for their child,” Joecks said. “Since every child has unique educational needs, the government shouldn’t try to force students into a one-size-fits-all school system. Giving parents a choice in where to send their kids to school would increase student achievement by getting a student into the best school for them and encouraging all schools to do their best to try and attract students.”


Image by Marie.