Las Vegas Schools Get New Performance Measurements from Superintendent Rulffes

Written by Jason Thomas for

Across the United States, parents, lawmakers and government oversight officials are not only wanting more school accountability but, in many instances, demanding it. Clark County School District Superintendent Walt Rulffes is making a unprecedented move by instituting new methods to measure academic success, eliminating the unpredictable and erratic measures with which most districts must contend. This bold move by the district, of which the Las Vegas schools are a part, preempts its critics by creating a framework that gives quantifiable levels of accountability that will be verifiable by parents, lawmakers or any other interested parties, including administrators of each of the Las Vegas schools.
The new measurements that, also used by the Las Vegas schools, use a simple graph that shows whether the district and Las Vegas schools have met their annual goals in various areas, such as increasing the retention rate. The district and Las Vegas schools will be tracking employee and parent satisfaction, too. Hard targets will be set for each school year with a list of measurements for each goal, and the district and Las Vegas schools must quantify whether they have met those goals by the end of the school year.
The new measurements for the district, including the Las Vegas schools, are based on explicit expectations. For example, 45 percent of the students passed the math portion of the high school proficiency exam on the first try in the 2005-2006 school year. A new goal is to increase that pass rate by three percent and nine percent over the next two years with a school year 2006-2007 pass rate of one percent being adequate growth, two percent is moderate, and three percent is superior.
Besides being erratic and unpredictable, the previous measurement system was very subjective. A goal was set without any objective and specific numeric targets, such as Las Vegas schools students will pass the math portion of the exam on their first try. There was no numeric goal or quantifiable expectations.
Rulffes believes that you cannot ask the public and legislature to underwrite a higher level of education if you cannot justify the request. You must be able to defend such a funding request. Taxpayers must be able to see a return on their investment in understandable numbers.
The superintendent also noted that the new measurement program will be useful in determining resource allocation. If resources are not appropriately deployed, adjustments can be made to target students and programs that need the resources. Las Vegas schools principals will be able to use the measurements in the same manner.
Though a few school districts across the nation are experimenting with similar measurement programs, Bob McCord, associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Las Vegas and former Clark County School District administrator, said the move is both a courageous and smart one. Though the new framework comes with a learning curve, it leaves room for adjustment as the program progresses. It is a program that the general public will clearly understand, knowing exactly where their schools, including the Las Vegas schools, and the education of their children are headed. The district will know if it is measuring the correct areas and targeting the appropriate students.
Senator Bob Beers (R-Las Vegas) has been an aggressive critic of the district, where the Las Vegas schools are located. He applauds the new assessment, noting that the change preempts any legislative mandates in district accountability. His only criticism was that consequences should be attached to the goals. Beers believes that if employees are not under the threat of losing their jobs, they will fail to meet the goals.
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