Lawmakers ask why students aren't getting better

Members of the Nevada joint Senate Finance, Ways and Means subcommittee Thursday questioned whether Nevada is making any progress toward improving the education students receive in public schools.

"When we adopted the Nevada Education Reform Act in 1997, we had high hopes we were going to increase standards," said Senate Finance Chairman Bill Raggio, R-Reno.

He said the department increased the percentage of students passing proficiency tests by lowering the requirements and he's still not sure students are actually learning more.

"We have to stop trying to make sure the test score is so that everybody can pass," he said. "We're doing a disservice to young people if we graduate them from high school and they're not able to compete out in the world."

Raggio said he was especially disturbed by the Department of Education report saying teachers were "teaching the breadth but not the depth" of the subject matter in math, English and science classes.

Superintendent of Education Keith Rheault said the criticism from districts was that there were too many standards trying to cover everything in a subject and that they only had time in class to "cover the surface, but not the detail."

He said things are getting much better now with the program in place for several years.

Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, a middle school teacher, said she was concerned the department isn't tracking some of the programs lawmakers created to help improve the quality of teaching and to keep good teachers - such as the bonuses used to attract new teachers.

"We should know long term is it even having an effect," she said.

Rheault said 2,852 new teachers were hired this year but that the department hasn't tracked how many teachers stay each year and how many leave despite bonuses and other incentives.

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, questioned the money for library books in the budget, saying it's the same as it was when first appropriated six or more years ago although the number of students has increased to more than 400,000 since then.

Giunchigliani said there has been no increase for inflation or the rising number of students in a number of programs.

Raggio also questioned whether those new teachers are knowledgeable about Nevada's standards and requirements.

Giunchigliani said one of the problems is all the requirements which have been added over the years while the school year remained unchanged at 180 days.

"We can no longer expect the content to be covered in depth if we don't have more time to teach," she said. "I'm hoping this session we can entertain the suggestion of lengthening the school year. Otherwise we will continue to cover the content but not teach to the depth of it."

Several of the legislators pointed out these are all complaints which have been raised in previous sessions. Rheault said the schools are making progress improving the education of Nevada's children but that it's not something that happens quickly.

"It may be slower than anticipated but I think we're getting there," he said.

- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or at 687-8750.


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