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Clark County magnet schools relaxing admission requirements

The Clark County School District is loosening its criteria for admissions into its nationally award-winning magnet schools, eliminating attendance requirements and a “citizenship” grade that reflects any behavioral issues in an attempt to diversify the schools and more accurately reflect the student population of the district.

The new criteria for those applying for the 2020-21 school year also eliminates academic criteria for many high school magnet programs — with the exception of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and performing arts programs that require an audition.

While grade-point averages were previously considered for all programs, they are now only considered for STEM programs such as nursing, engineering or information technology. Programs with no requirements are now considered “interest-based,” and include business management, forensic science and culinary arts. The Algebra I grade previously required for all programs also has been eliminated, with applicants for STEM programs required only to have taken a less-advanced pre-algebra course.

The district also is adding kindergarten to its elementary magnet schools for the first time.

The changes are part of an effort to ensure that all students have access to great programs, said Mike Barton, the district’s chief college, career and equity officer.

“When we looked at the high schools, particularly the data from a demographic standpoint, we were worried about some of the under-representation within our African-American and our Hispanic-Latino student groups,” he said.

Lottery system

The district’s 40 magnet schools grant admission based in part on a lottery system. Some magnet programs are offered within a regular comprehensive high school, while others — such as the district’s career-technical academies — are stand-alone magnet schools.

Preferences are given for a student’s first-choice school — up to 25 percent of seats are reserved for students who live in the geographic area of the school.

Up to 25 percent more are reserved for students who have siblings currently at the school. Another 25 percent go to those who attended a lower-level feeder magnet school.

While there are no application requirements for elementary and middle magnet schools, high school programs previously considered a number of factors — including grades, attendance and a student’s citizenship grade.

But these requirements resulted in admissions disparities, Barton noted.

The district is working to reduce the disproportionality of discipline among students, particularly African-Americans. The latest data from 2018-19 show that students in the group are still suspended and expelled at a higher rate than their peers.

The latest data show that African-American students have the highest chronic absenteeism rate out of all the racial subgroups.

On the flip side, state data for several stand-alone magnet high schools show that African-American students in particular are under-represented in comparison to the districtwide population.

Barton also noted that the failure rates for 8th-grade algebra were higher for African-American and Latino student groups than others, indicating that the district needs to focus on ensuring that all students are successful in it.

The changes were welcomed by the Clark County Black Caucus, which has been fighting for more black student representation in magnet schools for years.

“I’m happy that we have at least taken a nice big step forward,” said Yvette Williams, chairwoman of the group.

But Williams argued that other changes to the district’s magnet programs are still needed, including eliminating the preference given to siblings of current students and ensuring bus transportation for students regardless of where they live.

Parents react

The changes are drawing a mixed reaction from parents.

Kristine Segura, whose daughter is a freshman at Southwest Career and Technical Academy, said she understands the district’s reasoning.

But the “interest-based” programs also need to consider whether the students can actually carry the workload of a magnet school, she said.

“If they can’t handle the workload, then it’ll be a letdown for these kids,” she said.

Michelle Cox, whose eighth-grade daughter is applying to Las Vegas Academy, praised the move.

Her daughter has obsessive compulsive disorder, which has caused her to miss a lot of school and has hurt her grades.

Yet she still shows strong academic potential, scoring a 100-percent on the state standardized test in English, Cox said.

“Part of her disorder is that she doesn’t do homework because she has too many patterns and it stresses her out so she didn’t end up getting some good grades,” Cox said.

Those factors would not have made her a strong applicant for the academy, where she hopes to study guitar, Cox said.

“It kind of was exciting for me to hear because she was a little bit saddened to hear that those things (were) going to count against her,” Cox said. “It’s good for her and it’s kind of a relief.”

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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