CHEYENNE – Some Wyoming schools are starting to take their next steps after receiving their first grades through the state’s new accountability system.
The first set of grades was part of a pilot program, meaning there aren’t any consequences this year. Some school district officials said they are using the time to make sure they understand their scores. Others are looking at possible changes and trying pilot programs.
“There some schools that are trying to understand the indicators,” Wyoming Department of Education consultant Mike Flicek said. “The questions lead me to believe that’s what they’re focused on.”
Elementary schools were graded in areas including achievement, growth, equity and participation rate, according to information from the education department.
Achievement measures how many students are proficient or above on state tests. Participation notes how many students actually took the test when it was given.
Growth measures how students have improved, and equity looks at the growth of students who weren’t proficient in earlier testing cycles.
At the high school level, schools are graded on readiness instead of growth. Readiness looks at how well they’re prepared for college or careers.
Schools have been asking questions, trying to get a better sense of what those grades mean, Flicek said.
“We’ve been trying to make sure that people understand the indicators,” he said. “The important thing is to help the districts understand what the indicators are and what (districts) can do, because that empowers them.”
In Laramie County School District 1, administrators have been meeting with the schools that didn’t meet expectations, Superintendent Mark Stock said.
“There are a variety of things that we’re looking at,” he said. “We have to start by trying to explain to them how they got on the list.”
After understanding the score, then schools can begin to look at what needs to change and how much needs to change to start improving, he said.
Additionally, several of the schools that didn’t meet expectations are doing reading audits or have started pilot reading programs, he added.
“The goal is to take this accountability plan, which is all based on statistics and numbers, and get down to the real kids,” Stock said. “If the kids don’t improve, the school doesn’t improve – it’s about improving children, not schools.”
Laramie County School District 2 officials are working to understand scores for all of its schools, Superintendent Jack Cozort said.
“The first task is knowing what’s being said,” he said.
The district is set to continue current professional development work as part of its improvement efforts, he said. In the future, though, they may look to examples set by similar districts that score higher, he added.
In future years, schools that score well on the accountability system will be involved with helping other schools improve, Flicek said.
“The highest-performing schools are supposed to do a report to explain why they’re doing as well as they are,” he said.
The statewide system of supports – that improvement process – isn’t finished yet, but it likely will be in time for the first release of nonpilot data, he said.
But some high-performing schools and school districts have already started to think about what advice to share, several officials said.
In Sheridan County School District 2, four of the six elementary schools and the junior high all earned an exceeding expectations grade.
“A child comes to us every day, and it’s our job to say, ‘We’re going to get you there – we don’t care what your background is,’” Superintendent Craig Dougherty said.
The district focuses on offering interventions to struggling students and enrichment for others, he said.
“We have the fervent belief that teaching has more of an impact on learning than any other factor, and we invest our money in teachers,” Dougherty said.
To schools that are having a harder time growing students, he said one suggestion would be to increase communication between teachers.
“Our teachers meet together and ask ourselves four questions each week,” he said. “What do we want our kids to learn? How will we measure that they learned it? And what do we do for the kids who don’t get it? And then assign them an intervention until they catch up. And what will we do with the kids who got it?”
But, he added, schools also need to think about what they’re doing.
“It is not magic,” Dougherty said. “It’s gut-busting work.”