Enough with the excuses for poor test scores

2013-08-27T05:00:00Z 2013-12-30T13:27:04Z Enough with the excuses for poor test scoresCASPER STAR-TRIBUNE EDITORIAL BOARD Casper Star-Tribune Online
August 27, 2013 5:00 am  • 

Near as we can tell, Wyoming public school students are learning more about making excuses than the basics of education.

Perhaps most concerning is the significant amount of students’ apparent inability to apply cognitive skills. In other words, we’re more focused on teaching to test and less on students’ ability to think critically or adapt to new material.

Trouble is, if state and Natrona County School District officials are correct, we aren’t even aligning what’s being taught in class with the correct standardized tests.

Two recent examples should alarm school officials, teachers, business and government leaders, parents, and of course, students themselves.

First, 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 by the state Department of Education. Natrona County students were even less proficient in most grade levels and categories than the state average. Proficiency among seventh-graders in reading and math were the only categories to increase from the prior year’s score.

The response?

State and Natrona County school officials said the slump in the Performance Assessment of Wyoming Students, or PAWS, was likely a result of the state’s ongoing transition from one set of learning standards to another.

Wyoming asked its teachers to begin teaching to a national set of new learning goals called the “Common Core State Standards” in 2012, but the 2012 PAWS wasn’t aligned with those standards. This past year’s PAWS testing was the first standardized exam to incorporate test questions with the new standards.

“We know that implementation of new standards changes the practice of classroom teachers,” Deb Lindsey, the state’s director of assessment, told Star-Tribune education reporter Leah Todd. “It takes time.”

Mark Mathern, the Natrona County School District’s associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, expects the state’s standardized assessment to fully reflect what’s taught in Common Core by 2015.

Our students can’t wait that long.

While it’s convenient to blame Common Core for terrible test results [some people have even gone so far off their rockers as to connect it with the United Nations’ Agenda 21], the fact is another year of deplorable test results means the answer isn’t just a one-time curriculum switch.

The problem lies much deeper. Many of the areas in which students performed poorly were also the areas where students previously had lackluster results.

Meanwhile, the latest scores of Wyoming students on the ACT college entrance exam were lower than the previous year and also below the national average. The results were mainly from students who took the test as juniors last year.

The response?

Lindsey told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that the drop in scores was likely the result of including for the first-time test-takers who needed extra time to complete the exam.

A closer look reveals that Wyoming students who completed the test in the standard amount of time still scored less than the national average (20.0 for Wyoming and 20.9 nationally), compared with 15.2 for students who had extra time to finish the test.

Poor test scores have become too accepted in the state, based on a variety of excuses.

Gallingly, the root causes of poor test scores are much harder to pin down and don’t lend themselves to simple explanations, or excuses.

This should create a perfect opportunity for new Natrona County School District Superintendent Steve Hopkins to take a true leadership position and help define ways to improve test scores.

No excuses.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(5) Comments

  1. lllggg
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    lllggg - August 29, 2013 10:40 pm
    Having recently entered into the schools as an observer and substitute I can say this fairly. The students are being pushed into at least eight courses a day; each class being less 50 minutes. As a student in high school; I had six or seven classes. Consider having to run a change of thought or learning eight times a day. As one teacher said; each additional class has only cost 16 minutes a period to go from 6 to eight classes. The 16 minutes has caused a learning crisis. Rather than trying to have every class every day, run it as college courses; some three times a week, some four times a week. The children would learn more.
  2. WyomingBorn
    Report Abuse
    WyomingBorn - August 29, 2013 11:33 am
    Believe me, no one is more frustrated than your local school board, and the district's teachers and administrators. No Child Left Behind as crucified everything in our educational system. Schools are forced to teach to the test, in an attempt to meet impossible standards. The PAWS test for high school juniors was a total joke. Many, many students either tried to avoid it altogether, or merely marked down the answer sheet at random. There was no buy-in, because it didn't affect students' grades, or their graduation. All it did was cause scheduling nightmares for all classes while it was going on, and classes that had mixed levels of students, (soph. jr. sr.) pretty much came to a complete standstill because students could not be held accountable for what they had missed while taking the test. Using the ACT at the high school level was an attempt to at least make it relevant to students, something they could use. While common core standards will allow teaching critical thinking skills again along with subject matter, it is going to be a while before our tests are aligned. Educators are at their wits end. All of us. Wouldn't you be?
  3. pappy
    Report Abuse
    pappy - August 27, 2013 6:22 pm
    If we want to fix this problem we need to get the Department of Education and the legislature out of our school systems teaching and education standards. Everything has gone down hill since teachers have been required to teach to the test instead of educating our children. One size fits all has never worked, not in education or any place else it has been applied. The ACT test was never designed as an evaluation tool for our education system. Very simply, it's a college entrance exam. Standardized timed tests don't measure a students ability to succeed. They give great statistics, and excuses from WDE, but don't benefit the student, or the teachers.
  4. 51 Flathead
    Report Abuse
    51 Flathead - August 27, 2013 7:45 am
    True story indeed. Publik skools in Amerika are nothing more than Government controlled holding pens where kids get brainwashed to be the next generation of army ants for the establishment.Home school you kids people,stay away from the entrapment of Publik Skools.
  5. WyoJeff
    Report Abuse
    WyoJeff - August 27, 2013 6:59 am
    we never had these problems back when we had standards that had to be met in order to advance to the next grade. Hold back the kids that fail the test and you would see a complete turn around. Allowing kids that don't understand to continue to the next grade only hurts them and slows sown the entire class. No child left behind has destroyed our education system. It was the worst thing Bush ever did. Today we have high school grads that can't even read.
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