Accountablity, testing standards raised in Wyoming schools

Thou shall not overtest but test for the right elements at the right time.

Education accountability legislation passed by the 61st Wyoming Legislature does not necessarily mean more—but better—testing will take place on Wyoming K-12 students to ensure they are on track to reach their educational goals and have the help and support to get there.

"Education accountability will force us, legislators and educators, to look in the mirror and make sure that we are doing everything we can to educate our kids right," Sen. Bill Landen, R-Natrona, said.

Wyoming Senate File 57 "Education Accountability" is Phase I of the effort to make school districts, schools, superintendents, principals, teachers, students and parents more accountable for the kind of education children in Wyoming receive. The governor signed the bill on March 21.

The basic idea for this act originated in the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-110, George W. Bush administration) and Wyoming Senate File 70 "Education Accountability" of 2011 (stepping stone of this year's bill).

"Wyoming funds its schools system better than any other state in the Union," Landen said.

Rep. Mike Madden, R-Johnson/Sheridan, added, therefore, some question why there is such a big difference in performance from nationally ranked schools to so below substandard that students can hardly read and write when they leave high school. The Education Accountability bill of 2012 is designed to hold all 48 school districts accountable for the performance of their students, Madden said.

Beginning in summer 2011 for six straight months with meetings twice a month, the Wyoming Joint Education Interim Committee, the Wyoming Department of Education and members of the community crafted the bill.

Everyone involved worked on:

Many of these questions have been answered in details in this year's bill, and others will be answered in bills in the years to come.

Most of the points in this year's bill have been a result of the "Wyoming Educational Accountability: Phase I Report" by Scott Marion, Ph.D., and Chris Domaleski, Ph.D., Center for Assessment, of January 2012 (available to view on the Wyoming legislative website).

One big point of this year's bill made clear when to test students and how to test across the state in a uniformed way.

Some legislators have concerns right now about some weaknesses of the bill. Madden pointed out a lot of testing is taking place every year, and this year alone the state will pay about $8 million for student testing. So, how much testing is too much?

Also Sen. Landen asked if teachers will have too much paperwork in order to do their job efficiently and properly. Furthermore, how good are some of the points for the real-life classrooms?

Next year will be Phase II of Education Accountability with the focus on school superintendents and principals. Rep. Madden said the work on next year's bill will start this summer. After that legislators will move on to expanding the Education Accountability Act to focus on teachers and later to students and parents, he added.

Why a bill for accountability on the parents' part? "We have a generation of parents that spent a lot of time not being engaged in school," Rep. Madden explained. If that continues, another generation of people will raise a new batch of children who don't know the importance of education.

Full implementation of all phases of the education accountability legislation may take as little as three years and will cost an estimated $10 million, Sen. Hank Coe, R-Park, said.

How does this pertain to community colleges?

"You can't solely determine success in a school by how many students achieve a given norm level of performance because those student don't all begin at the same place," said Dr. Jim Rose, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission (WCCC). Therefore, the bill focusing on achievements and growth of students is a step in the right direction for the education of the Wyoming's children and preparing them for post-secondary education and the workforce.

"The ultimate hope of this (bill) is that it starts to get us (secondary and post-secondary education) better connected," Rose said. "So that 'we' know that students are being evaluated on a basis that is relevant to what they need and prepares them for post-secondary education and the workforce."

Education Accountability Act in detail:

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