Wyoming students won't have computer problems on next year's state standardized tests.
That's because all tests will be taken on paper with pencil.
Numerous problems with this year's state standardized tests and worries that they wouldn't be fixed before the next testing cycle prompted a switch to paper and pencil, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jim McBride announced Monday.
The Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students, or PAWS, tests students in third through eighth and 11th grades in math, reading and writing. Students in fourth, eighth and 11th grades are also tested in science.
PAWS has been administered online since 2006. Every school district in the state experienced problems with the test platform in March and April, including frozen screens and difficulty logging into the system.
Under the changes announced Monday, districts will have three weeks instead of five to administer tests that can be given in classrooms, freeing up computer labs for regular use. The tests will take each student about nine hours to complete, and results will be returned in a similar time and fashion as the online assessment, McBride said.
"We will be returning a great deal of instructional time," McBride said.
Paper and pencil tests might be more stable and earn trust lost from electronic assessments, said Marie Puryear, principal at Casper Classical Academy.
"I wish there was a way to assess kids that wouldn’t take hours and hours but would give us a good picture," Puryear said. "Teachers feel that the test is not a true scenario."
High stakes, high cost
The Wyoming Department of Education expressed concerns with the timeline from testing company NCS Pearson in January but was assured that problems would be fixed, McBride said. Wyoming was the first to use the TestNav7 platform, which showed errors as early as Feb. 15.
"We will no longer be the guinea pig during that process," McBride said. "We cannot successfully rely on the online administration."
PAWS tests are used to measure "adequate yearly progress" under the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools that do not make AYP are subject to "corrective action." The state department has requested special consideration of Wyoming's results in determining AYP and corrective action from the U.S. Department of Education.
Test results won't be available until that decision is made and a third party analyzes the validity of the results, McBride said. NCS Pearson agreed to pay for the analysis by the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment Inc., said Mary Kay Hill, director of administration for the department.
NCS Pearson offered $266,253 plus overtime pay for teachers and staff members who assisted with the technology problems in a letter dated April 13. The state department requested $9.5 million, citing a "complete default of the contract," and faults NCS Pearson with a 2010 PAWS test "essentially unusable by the Department and the State of Wyoming as a whole."
The cost for next year's assessment will likely be part of current contract negotiations but will be less than an online assessment, McBride said. Despite testing errors in previous years, the department signed a four-year, $40 million contract with NCS Pearson in 2009.
A political issue
Regardless of the platform, PAWS will not and cannot go away, McBride said. Students are required to be tested by state and federal law, which McBride doesn't expect to change when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is revised in the next couple of years.
"This is a hugely important effort and a hugely important task, and we’re working hard to get it right," McBride said.
McBride is up for re-election this year, and his challengers said the substance of the test won't improve with the switch.
"It’s simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," said state Sen. Mike Massie of Laramie, a Democratic candidate for superintendent. He said there's flexibility within the federal mandate to develop a test that gives more information about student achievement and takes less time away from instruction.
"We do need to have a standardized test, but that standardized test is not PAWS," Massie said.
Republican challenger Ted Adams, superintendent of Laramie County School District 1, said the state should use an adaptive assessment that can be given multiple times, at any time during the year. Adams said Wyoming should incorporate better use of technology to create assessments that resemble how students learn.
"For us to go back to the 20th century with paper and pencil is the wrong direction," Adams said.
Republican challenger Cindy Hill, a former assistant principal in Cheyenne, said students are tested too much and results of tests such as PAWS need to be useful.
"If the results aren't timely, they're not going to impact education," Hill said.
Reach education reporter Jackie Borchardt at (307) 266-0593 or at email@example.com. Read her education blog at tribtown.trib.com/reportcard