- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) - He’s a flyspeck short of becoming the first in his family to earn a high school diploma.

One measly point stopped Johnathan Hampton from passing a standardized math test and now the Canyon Springs High School senior won’t be throwing his cap in the air with classmates on June 10.

Instead, Hampton, 18, is cramming to retake the exam. The class of 2016 is the last to be required to pass state proficiency tests to finish high school.

As many as 3,400 of about 20,500 seniors in the Clark County School District failed at least one of the four exams, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1P1F5E9).

The state will start using new standardized exams to evaluate education during the next school year. Nevada legislators in 2013 mandated the transition to math and language arts tests that are taken at the end of courses. “It’s like a final exam,” state Superintendent Steve Canavero said.

The classes of 2017 and 2018 will take the tests to help educators set standards. Passing scores won’t be required for graduation until 2019.

The coming changes don’t help Johnathan. He’s stuck taking the math test, even though the state is getting rid of it.

After his third crack at passing it, he had to deliver the disappointing news that he would not graduate with classmates to his parents, Casey Hampton and Delannie Wiggins, five younger sisters and his little brother. He made tough phone calls to relatives in Louisiana, Texas and Connecticut who had already bought airline tickets for his commencement.

“I feel like I let everybody down,” Johnathan said. “It was really something to see me walk across that stage.’”

Most of all, he wanted to make his “Granny” proud. She died at age 73 on Christmas Eve. Despite the setbacks, his mother encouraged him to keep trying.

“You’re limited in life without that piece of paper,” said Casey Hampton, a hotel uniform attendant. “Sometimes you gotta go through stuff so you can be a testimony to someone else.”

Before he takes the test for the fourth time in June, Johnathan plans to take advantage of summer study sessions offered at school. State law requires school districts to help students prepare for and pass exams, which can be taken up to six times for everything but writing, for which five tries are allowed.

Students who have not met the mark by their expected graduation date can come back for a fifth year of high school or enroll in adult education.

Johnathan’s grit keeps him going. After failing four tests during his sophomore year, he started studying. He improved scores, passing science and reading as a junior and writing as a senior.

Canyon Springs Principal Ron Guerzon said struggles haven’t stopped Johnathan from going after his goals. “He has an inspiring attitude,” Guerzon said. “It’s contagious.”

The star athlete and school club leader hopes to attend community college and eventually the U.S. Air Force Academy after getting his diploma. His sights are set on becoming a police officer.

If he defeats the math problems on his test next month, he’ll join students from the district’s 49 high schools for an Aug. 23 commencement ceremony. The late-summer graduates are those who’ve overcome extra hurdles in getting their diplomas.

“You gotta keep pushing,” Johnathan said. “Once I get knocked down, I get back up.”

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Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, https://www.lvrj.com

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