By Morgan Hughes
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE – The 2017-18 school year was a guinea pig year for Wyoming schools. The Wyoming Department of Education implemented new state and federal accountability models and a new state standardized test.
This was in compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act in 2015 and was fully implemented for the first time at the start of the 2017-18 school year.
ESSA brought a number of changes to education. Where NCLB mandated universal accountability standards for every state in the country, ESSA gave each state the autonomy to develop its own goals and accountability methods within the confines laid out in the legislation.
One of the requirements laid out in ESSA is for states to provide more comprehensive data to the public in the form of an online report card. The Wyoming Department of Education released the first iteration of that requirement Monday at wyomingmeasuresup.com.
For the first time, the public can view assessment data, graduation rates, enrollment data and a litany of other figures all in one place, from the state level all the way down to specific schools. As required by law, the information is distilled into clear, consumer-friendly language. The U.S. Department of Education also released a guide to help parents navigate the new report cards.
Included in the report card for Wyoming schools is an overview of enrollment figures, assessment data, average ACT scores, the graduation rate and Hathaway Scholarship information. From the overview, users can click around for more detailed reports, including cost-per-student information, which is a new ESSA reporting requirement.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said the new report card was an opportunity to better evaluate the needs of all students, but particularly those who are struggling.
“We identified the state report card as a way to really reveal inequities,” she said. “We’re not just looking at the kids that are succeeding; we’re looking at the kids that aren’t succeeding, determining why and moving those kids.”
Wyoming also implemented a new state standardized assessment last year, the Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress. The increased rigor of the reporting requirements under ESSA, matched with the newness of WY-TOPP, does present challenges for comparing any data collected from 2017-18 with previous years. Balow said because the previous assessment and WY-TOPP are so different, comparisons can’t be drawn between the two.
“We’ve been really intentional to caution against trying to compare what we had before to what we have now,” she said.
Laramie County School District 2 Superintendent Jon Abrams said that lack of a comparator could be misleading.
“My only concern about the report card is that we look at a snapshot in time,” he said. “You could pull that snapshot and paint the district in a bad light.”
He said because LCSD2 is a smaller district with smaller schools, its data is more apt to fluctuate. He said he prefers to look at trends when evaluating the district, but because of the new programs, he said it is going to be a while before he is able to see a bigger picture from the new numbers.
Kari Eakins, chief policy officer for the Wyoming Department of Education, said the report card and the data it presents is just one measure of success.
“We never rely on just one measure to say schools are succeeding or failing,” she said. “While accountability determinations can give us insight into how well students and schools are doing, they are not and should not be the end-all be-all.”
Eakins also said this first year was a base, and that the Department of Education hopes to continue to get community feedback on ways to improve the report card.
There also was a learning curve for districts that for the first time had to compile report cards for each of their schools. This first year’s report card was somewhat of a test run, Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown said.
“We tried to take a pretty broad look at it, knowing it was going to have to improve as we move forward,” he said.
Brown said they struggled with getting uniformity across the state, but he thinks regardless, it will be a useful tool for the community.
The state Department of Education hopes so, too. Eakins said the report card should be a tool to inform local public policy.
“Better decisions are made when people are informed and can add to the discussion,” she said. “We take a lot of pride in Wyoming and making sure decisions can be made at the local level.”