New numbers released this week by the Clark County School District show some improvement in students when it comes to math and language arts, but there’s still a long way to go.

According to the report, by eighth grade, just over 47 percent of students show proficiency on the Smarter Balanced English Language Arts Exam, which is about 1.6 percent higher than the previous school year.

When it comes to the math exam, 29.6 percent of students are proficient, which is more than double the number from the year before.  However, the numbers are still low, as Nevada tries to improve its historical underachievement in education.

In a state that ranks near the bottom in so many educational metrics, one number summarizes many of the issues: 45 percent.  According to the latest Nevada Department of Education scorecard, less than half of Nevada’s nearly 38,000 third grade students are testing as proficient in reading.

To fix the issue, education officials have been phasing in a state law that is aimed at early intervention. The “Read by Grad 3” program will go into effect soon, and it will help boost reading scores statewide. 

However, the question of how to turn around low test scores has different answers, depending on who you ask.

Anna Slighting is a parent, teacher, education advocate and policy director at Hope for Nevada.  She says it boils down to dollars and cents.

“There’s just never enough funding to cover all of the mandates; never enough time, never enough training for the already overworked principals and teachers to try to be compliant with the bills,” Slighting said.

State lawmakers in 2015 said it comes to pushing educators for higher student achievement by passing the ‘Read by Grade 3 Initiative.’

The 2018-2019 school year is the last school year before third-grade students can start being held back based on their springtime reading scores.

“I really believe in what we’re doing here,” said Joan Jackson, education program professional for ‘Read by Grade 3.’  “I think that we’re at a really pivotal point where we can make a difference for kids.” 

Jackson says by the Spring of 2020, third graders will have been tracked since being kindergartners, and school staff will be required to work with families if students have trouble passing similar assessments in kindergarten, first, or second grade.

If next year’s third-graders don’t pass the test, those who score in the bottom testing tier will be subject to being held back.

Nearly 6,800 third graders last year in Clark County fell into that category.

It’s a large number, but state officials insist testing in the Spring of 2020 won’t trigger a mass retention of third graders.

“It’s not just one test that makes the decision,” Jackson said.

So how will students who don’t pass the reading test, be allowed to move on to fourth grade?

For one, they can pass alternative tests or put together a portfolio that demonstrates proficiency.  Students with individualized education plans have different requirements to meet, and English language learners have contingencies.

Again, the state says the goal isn’t to hold kids back; its purpose is to create more of a path toward early intervention before third grade.