Administrators and school board members Monday began to digest testing data released late last month that showed Natrona County students gaining ground on past years but still largely falling short of state averages.
“It’s nice to see some scores going up,” board member Debbie McCullar, who chairs the board’s academic steering committee, summarized at the end of the board’s meeting Monday afternoon.
The data that district administrators walked board members through showed general gains, especially for high schools here. The test, WY-TOPP, tests third- through 10th-graders on reading and math, while three of those grade levels are tested for science. In other words, there are 19 scores on the test — eight reading scores across the grade levels, eight math scores and three science scores.
In all, Natrona County students improved in 15 of 19 possible scores. The largest gains were seen in the high school levels, where there were proficiency level increases of roughly 12 percent in both ninth and 10th grade.
That was certainly positive news, though the district students slipped in fourth- and fifth-grade reading, which both saw sizable drops in proficiency compared to last year. Still, in all but third- and fourth-grade reading, more than 50 percent of the district’s students are proficient in reading, which is one of its strategic goals set to be reached by 2024.
Walt Wilcox, the district’s associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, acknowledged the drooping test scores for fourth- and fifth-graders, saying it was system-wide issue. Angela Hensley, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, said administrators were exploring if there was some “misalignment” with the fourth-grade English Language Arts curriculum and that schools were conducting reviews.
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She and Wilcox noted that several elementary and middle schools have had leadership changes over the past two years, as the district adjusts to a wave of retirements that’s set to include the superintendent this June.
The data showed Monday also indicated that Natrona County students were generally improving at a slower rate than Wyoming students in reading too. While Natrona County kids improved, the state average as a whole jumped almost across the board as well. For reading, the Wyoming student proficiency average improved more than the Natrona County average for five of eight grade levels this year — with high schoolers in Casper growing at a faster clip than their peers elsewhere in the Equality State.
The same was true of math: The state improved more than Natrona County in five areas, with 10th-grade math being the significant outlier for improvement in Casper’s schools.
The WY-TOPP scores matter for a litany of reasons. For one, test scores as early as third grade can indicate if a student is going to graduate or not. Graduation, in turn, impacts a person’s life expectancy, health outcomes and earning potential.
The scores also matter for state accountability. In the coming weeks, the state will release ratings for individual schools. The district has set a goal to have each of its nearly 30 schools meet state expectations by 2024. Last year, a third of schools did so.