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.
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.
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.