Standardized test performances for Wyoming elementary and middle school students declined in every subject and every grade level from 2012 numbers, according to data released Wednesday by the Wyoming Department of Education.
The slump in scoring on the Performance Assessment for Wyoming Students, or PAWS, is likely a result of the state's ongoing transition from one set of learning standards to another, Wyoming Director of Assessment Deb Lindsey said.
"Knowing that every district is in a state of transition and, simultaneously, our assessments are in transition, it's not surprising to me to see some declines," Lindsey said.
Wyoming asked its teachers to begin teaching to a national set of new learning goals called the Common Core State Standards in 2012. The 2013 PAWS test was the first standardized exam to incorporate test questions about the new standards.
"We know that implementation of new standards changes the practice of classroom teachers," Lindsey said. "It takes time."
The Natrona County School District’s scores declined more than the statewide results did in most grades and subject levels. The district saw especially large declines in year-over-year performance in science – which is only tested in grades four and eight – and in fourth- and fifth-grade reading.
“As the tests are adjusted, that’s going to change student achievement rates,” said Mark Mathern, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction with the Natrona County School District.
Likely at the root of the slump in scores is misalignment between what's being taught and what's being tested, Mathern said. Because the state’s PAWS test is not yet fully in line with Common Core, students this year were tested on things that were not taught, he said. The Wyoming Department of Education expects the state’s standardized assessment to fully reflect what’s taught in Common Core by 2015.
The percentage of Natrona County eighth-graders at or above proficient in science dropped 10 percent from last year’s figures, data showed. The drop was 8 percent for fourth-graders – the other grade level at which the PAWS science section is tested.
“That data set continues to show low performance,” Mathern said of the eighth-grade test results.
Former Arizona state Sen. Richard Crandall, who started as Wyoming Department of Education director on Monday, said the across-the-board decrease in proficiency rates indicates there's more work to be done to transition to the new Common Core standards, which administrators say are more challenging than Wyoming's former content standards.
“I would caution that they not be interpreted as an indictment of the ongoing work to improve educational outcomes,” Crandall said in a department release. “The higher expectations that come with more rigorous standards will ultimately benefit all Wyoming students.”
PAWS is Wyoming’s state assessment for grades 3-8. It measures progress toward Wyoming content standards, and the data it produces is used to determine Wyoming's accountability to state and federal education standards. Students in grades 3 through 8 are tested in math and reading and students in fourth and eighth grades are also tested in science. The ACT replaced PAWS as the standardized test for grade 11 in 2013.