Douglas County students are above average |

Douglas County students are above average

This is the second in a series of columns addressing test data and what that information means in our education system.

It’s hard to predict how the changes that are made in an education system will affect students in the long run. When Douglas County School District began this journey toward a competency-based education system back in the early 1990s, the goal was to elevate the expectations for students and educators to produce high-school graduates who would be ready to face the challenges of whatever direction their lives took.

Whether students chose continued education or the work force, we wanted them to have the knowledge and skills to be responsible, productive citizens.

We saw in September that Douglas County School District students compare favorably with other student populations across the state and across the nation. The NRT data from the TerraNova indicates that the Douglas County School District competency expectations have kept all of our students above average on that test of knowledge and skills.

The question as to whether this system affords the same advantage to students seeking higher education opportunities can be answered from recently released college entrance test data.

One source of information that can help us determine how well our college-bound students are faring in a competency-based system is to look at the two college entrance exams that many students elect to take in their junior year of high school. The tests are the American College Test (ACT) and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

Approximately 40 percent of the Douglas County School District juniors took the ACT and a little more than 25 percent took the SAT. Students can choose not to have their scores included in district, state, and national results. The following information is not representative of every student who took the test.

The ACT has a wide range of content that it tests within the four main strands of English, math, science and reading. The scores are broken down into the four areas and a composite is also given from the average of those four areas. The range of these scores is from one to 36, with the average score being 18.

The results are encouraging.

Douglas County School District students have been making steady improvements over the last five years and the 2002 scores continue that trend. The national average for the composite score was 20.8 while the state of Nevada’s average composite score was 21.3. Douglas County School District juniors had an average composite score of 22.7. Further, our students bested the national average in math and English by almost two points.

The SAT is designed to be a predictor of student success in the higher- education setting and utilizes higher-level thinking skills to assess a student’s aptitude for college. The SAT has two main test strands labeled math and verbal.

The scores are reported in each area on a scale from 200 to 800. The SAT scores from Douglas County School District have fluctuated slightly over the last five years, though they have stayed consistently above the national averages. The national and state averages for the verbal section were 504 and 509, with 516 and 518 for math, respectively. Douglas County School District students scored 524 on the verbal and 536 on the math. Once again, our students scored considerably higher than the state and national averages.

If the positive trends for NRT scores that we saw last month and college entrance exam scores persist, it confirms the belief that a competency-based system does prepare students for their chosen path in life. Working hard to meet the competency standards does improve the quality of education for our kids. The trends also indicate the high degree of commitment and dedication that our education community has brought to bear to realize this level of student achievement.

As John Soderman, superintendent of Douglas County School District has said, “We raised the expectations for our students and for ourselves as educators, and the entire system has risen to meet those expectations.”

Brandon Swain is professional development trainer for Douglas County School District. He may be reached at

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