NEWCASTLE — A new education accountability system in the works at the Wyoming Department of Education would hold schools accountable to a state-developed set of performance standards starting in the spring of 2015.
The new system is roughly Wyoming’s version of federal accountability measures outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act. It would place Wyoming schools in one of four performance categories each year.
And it would measure more than just student achievement, according to presentations made before the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability on Tuesday in Newcastle.
Such factors as student growth, student readiness and a school’s equity in dealing with at-risk or low-achieving students will all play into the equations used to determine a school’s achievement category, which will in turn trigger interventions from the state Department of Education in low-performing schools.
Following a one-year delay granted by the Legislature earlier this year, a test round of the accountability measures is set to begin this academic year. Schools will be unofficially put into one of the four performance categories — exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, partially meeting expectations, or not meeting expectations.
The schools portion of the accountability system is scheduled to take full effect beginning with the 2014-15 school year. The teacher portion of the accountability system will come at a later date.
Schools failing to meet expectations will be required to report to the state Department of Education about why they failed and what steps the school is taking to help accelerate student performance, according to the original legislation of the Wyoming Accountability in Education Act first passed in 2011. If a school doesn’t meet expectations for two or more consecutive years, the legislation says, a state assistance team will develop turn-around strategies for each under-performing school.
“The Wyoming system is very much saying, ‘We need to improve the capacity that we have,’” said education assessment consultant Scott Marion of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment. The organization is advising the Education Department during development of the accountability system. “The goal has not been about, ‘We’re going to hit you over the head [for not performing well]. It’s about, how can we use this [data] for improvement.
Marion said his company works with assessment systems in 35 states. Wyoming is unique, he said, in that it has the money and resources to dedicate toward developing a cohesive state accountability system from the ground up.
“It’s got a small education policy community — people who know each other,” Marion said.
Marion was one of six speakers before the select committee Tuesday. Also weighing in with an update on the new accountability system was Michael Flicek, a consultant contracting with the Department of Education.
Having information regarding individual student growth and student subgroup growth – that is, improvement among a school’s most at-risk students over time – is critical for schools that are looking to improve, Flicek said.
At the elementary and middle school levels, the state will use student scores on the state assessment to determine whether a school is meeting expectations under the new system. At the high school level, such factors as ACT scores, graduation rates, numbers of credits completed after the ninth grade and the percentage of students eligible for a Hathaway Scholarship to the University of Wyoming will play a greater role in categorizing a school.
The system is the state’s first shot at a homegrown accountability system, said select committee co-chairman Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody.
“This has been a work in progress for going on three years,” Coe said after Tuesday’s meeting. “Collaboration is the difference between a year ago and what’s going on now.”
The Department of Education and the select committee clashed over progress on the state’s accountability system last year. Wyoming Legislative Service Office liaisons studied the department, then under the leadership of elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, at the request of the Legislature. The liaisons reported the department failed to provide information for the new accountability system, among other reported shortcomings.
Hill has repeatedly denied those allegations, saying they are inaccurate and conjecture at best.
Coe said the disagreements slowed work on the accountability system and informed the Legislature’s decision earlier this year to redirect many of the superintendent’s duties to a governor-appointed director of the Department of Education.