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Jillian Balow panel

Jillian Balow, left, Wyoming superintendent of public instruction, participates in a panel discussion Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. during the release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress standardized test scores. Wyoming students performed well in math and reading. 

Wyoming’s fourth-graders were tied for best in the nation for math and topped the national average in every other area assessed, according to national results released Tuesday.

Eight other states were on par with the fourth-graders’ math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is known as NAEP or the nation’s report card. The test — assessed every two years — samples fourth- and eighth-graders from across the nation on reading and math.

In addition to topping the nation in fourth-grade math, Wyoming students beat the national average in the three other areas for the third time in a row. Because the test takes a sampling of students statewide, district-by-district results are not available.

“NAEP provides an important independent look at how our schools are doing, and these results show that Wyoming schools and students have a lot to be proud of, particularly with fourth grade math,” State Superintendent Jillian Balow said in a statement. “Wyoming spends more per student than many states, and by equitably distributing those funds, we create opportunities for every student to be successful.”

Balow was one of four education officials from across the nation who participated in a panel about the NAEP scores Tuesday morning.

In fourth-grade reading, Wyoming beat out 34 states and was behind just three. It was effectively level with 14 others. In eighth-grade reading, Wyoming beat 23 states, was lower than seven and was not significantly different than 21 others.

For eighth-grade math, students here were topped by five other states, beat 36 others and were roughly level with 11 others.

States include the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools.

Wyoming’s scores overall were all essentially flat compared to 2015 and 2013 results. In an article about what states were on a “hot streak” ahead of the 2017 NAEP results release, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute lauded Wyoming “for producing statistically significant gains among fourth graders in both reading and math.”

In a press release, the state Department of Education highlighted growth in mathematics scores for Native Americans.

“(T)heir increased performance in mathematics during 2017 significantly reduced the achievement gap between Native American and White students in Wyoming as previously reported in 2015,” the department said in a press release.

In Wyoming, the NAEP scores have become a political talking point that legislators have used to both justify spending cuts and to defend schools from those reductions. The scores often provide ammo for both sides. For instance, Wyoming is tied with several states in every metric, which, some lawmakers say, suggests students here are near the middle of the pack. They say that doesn’t justify the significant price the state spends per students.

“(W)hy are we spending so much for outcomes that are not distinguishable from our neighbors?” Sheridan Republican Sen. Dave Kinskey asked at an October meeting. “More importantly, what is the answer to getting more bang for our buck educationally?”

But defenders of Wyoming schools say that while Wyoming may be roughly even with a number of states, they’re beat by only a handful of others.

“Anecdotally, we seem to think that we’re doing poorly, and we keep hearing that over and over again,” Sen. Chris Rothfuss, a Laramie Democrat, said in that same October meeting. “But it is not born out by the data.”

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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