Editor’s Picks


Nevada Virtual Academy Announces Closure of Elementary School

By Cait Etherington
September 26, 2018

Earlier this month, Nevada’s Department of Education released its annual school ratings. Nevada Virtual Academy received only one star on the Nevada School Performance Framework (NSPF). Just a few weeks later, the school has announced plans to shut its doors at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

The Nevada School Performance Framework School Rating System

In an effort to ensure that all children are meeting the criteria outlined in Nevada’s ESSA plan, the NSPF measures four key factors: growth measure of achievement (e.g., a child’s progress on learning outcomes over time); status measure of achievement; reductions in achievement gaps; and other indicators (e.g., the student’s average daily attendance at school). According to the NSPF homepage, the NSPF index score is “a composite of several performance indicators, each worth a predetermined maximum number of points” and each performance indicator is “a composition of multiple factors.” The maximum points possible for each indicator are determined by schools that perform at the 95th percentile. As a result, the NSPF sets a high but attainable goal, making the Nevada Virtual Academy’s recent one-star rating particularly alarming.

Why Nevada Virtual Academy Received One Star

To appreciate how poorly Nevada Virtual Academy’s elementary students are doing, it is helpful to compare results for just one grade level. In this case, grade three results for statewide and state charter schools are contrasted with results for students at Nevada Virtual Academy. Statewide just under half of students are proficient in mathematics and readings. At state charter schools, however, the numbers of are much higher, with a majority of students reaching proficiency levels in both areas. However, publicly available data on the Nevada Accountable Portal reveals that students at Nevada Virtual Academy are lagging behind in both mathematics and readings, with less than a third of students meeting proficiency benchmarks in mathematics and just over 35 percent reaching proficiency levels in reading.

Reactions to the School’s Announced Closure

In many respects, the Nevada Virtual Academy’s closure is not a surprise. Last Spring, the State Public Charter School Authority issued a notice of intent to terminate Nevada Virtual Academy’s charter contract due to the ongoing underperformance of its elementary school. Threatened with closure, the Nevada Virtual Academy went into negotiations with the State Public Charter School Authority. Eventually, the troubled school reached an agreement permitting it to remain open but only if it raised its NSPF index score by 34 points (this would have brought the school to two stars). In the end, the school only managed to raise its index score by 21 points, which was not enough to lift it to two-star status.

Patrick Gavin, executive director of the State Public Charter School Authority, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that 500 elementary school students will be impacted the school’s closure. Looking ahead, Gavin also said, “I think it’s going to be really important for the traditional public schools and charter school statewide to provide as much assistance as possible to the kids and families affected by it.” For now, Nevada Virtual Academy’s elementary school students will be permitted to complete the year. Nevada Virtual Academy’s high school will continue to operate indefinitely but with a cap on enrollment.

Despite supporting the shut down of Nevada Virtual Academy’s elementary school, Gavin also told the Las Vegas Review Journal that he recognizes the potential value of online charters: “It is very clear that for some students these programs are an ideal fit. Unfortunately, the reality is there are far too many students who have not been successful in these programs.” In the wake of the Nevada Virtual Academy’s troubles, Nevada lawmakers are expected to tackle the online charter school question in 2019.