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Pineview Elementary

Fifth grade teacher Zachary Ley explains an exercise to his students Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 5, 2018 at Pineview Elementary School in Casper. Test scores in Natrona County improved last year.

Students in Natrona County gained ground on testing last year, improving in nearly every category, though scores here continue to generally trail behind state averages.

Overall, testing averages across Wyoming improved. The WY-TOPP — the state’s testing system — tests third- through 10th-graders on math and English language arts. Fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders are also tested on science. There are 19 possible areas for improvement — each of the eight grades is tested on two subjects, and three of them are tested on three. In all, Wyoming students improved their scores on 16 of the 19 areas. Fourteen of the 19 now have 50 percent of students rated at least proficient.

Overall, Wyoming students in 2018-19 improved their scores from the previous year by 2 percent on math; 2.6 percent on English; and just under 1 percent for science.

The state Department of Education released data on the ACT, which is a college readiness exam given to 11th-graders with a maximum score of 36. Wyoming students maintained their average 19.5 ACT score from the 2017-18 school year. While the score didn’t drop, it remains the lowest ACT score for Wyoming juniors since at least the 2012-13 school year.

In a statement accompanying the release of the data, state Superintendent Jillian Balow noted that scores improved now that students and teachers are more used to WY-TOPP. This is the second year the test has been in place.

In a media call Wednesday afternoon, Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Jay Curtis said he was happy with the WY-TOPP and is hoping it remains as the testing mechanism for the state. Educators across the state, including in Natrona County, expressed frustration last year because of the change to WY-TOPP. The venting was less a specific criticism of the test and more of a broad frustration about the constantly changing measuring stick.

But Balow, Curtis and other educators on the call praised WY-TOPP, and it’s apparently saving the state as much as $5 million a year.

Meanwhile, in central Wyoming, the bag was somewhat mixed for Natrona County students. On the one hand, scores jumped: Of the 19 areas for improvement, students here improved on 15 of them. At least 50 percent of students rated as proficient or better on 10 of the tests, while fewer than 50 percent were proficient on the other nine.

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Both are improvements from the 2017-18 school year, when the WY-TOPP was first administered. That year, there were only five tests that at least 50 percent of students were rated proficient or better.

Most notably, the district made gains at the high school level. The number of students who rated proficient on the 10th grade English test jumped 12 percent; nearly 60 percent of Natrona County 10th-graders were rated at least proficient on English. Sophomores saw similar improvement on science, where proficiency scores increased 14 percent. Ninth-grade math and English proficiency rates also had double-digit percentage increases.

Still, the district has some distance to make up in terms of comparing to the state average. There were only six of the 19 areas that Natrona County students beat the state average on: English in seventh, ninth and 10th grade; math in ninth grade; and science in eighth and 10th grade.

Indeed, the district was typically well behind state averages for elementary school students; not a single elementary score in Natrona County topped the state average. The majority of the district’s strong showing came in the older grades.

Needless to say, the elementary grades are important. Educators frequently say that literacy performance in third grade is a strong indicator of whether a student is going to finish high school. Not finishing high school, in turn, can mean shorter lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income over a lifetime.

The testing results also serve as a de facto benchmark for the Natrona County School District, which earlier this summer approved new strategic goals. One of them, to be achieved by 2024, calls for all students to meet or exceed literacy expectations. Although it showed positive growth, the testing data released Wednesday indicates the district still has some ways to go.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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