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Wyo lawmakers push forward on school accountability plan

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CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Senate will likely hold a final vote next week on the first phase of a statewide K-12 education accountability system, including setting up a school ranking system and changing the state’s testing regimen.

The proposals in Senate File 57, worked out by the Joint Education Committee after months of discussion and testimony, comes out of concerns that state education funding has soared in recent years without a corresponding rise in student performance.

Under the legislation, each school would be evaluated on student performance and improvement over time by a panel of state Board of Education members, school administrators, teachers, parents and community members, among others.

The panel would give each school one of four ratings, from “exceeding expectations” to “not meeting expectations.” Schools that don’t exceed expectations would have to submit improvement plans. Principals of schools that don’t meet improvement goals two years in a row could be fired, under the plan.

The idea, said Senate Education Committee Chairman Hank Coe, R-Cody, is to help narrow in on underperforming schools so they can receive assistance

“Ultimately, we want every kid in the state to have that opportunity to succeed,” Coe said. “We do have some districts that struggle.”

The other major change under the bill would lighten the testing load for Wyoming elementary and secondary students and realign it toward measuring college readiness.

The bill would keep the state’s current and ill-fated Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students, or PAWS, standardized testing system for grades 3 through 8 in science, writing, reading and math. But it would space out those different tests over different years, and it would enact a three-hour limit on the writing exam.

In high school, the PAWS test would be replaced by a suite of ACT tests, including pre-ACT tests in ninth and 10th grade, the ACT test in 11th grade, and an optional compass test in 12th grade.

Senate Education Committee member Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said the committee is trying to implement a testing system that is recognized nationwide and is of actual importance to students wanting to enter college or a career.

Lawmakers said they expect Senate File 57 to pass the Legislature easily. But the bill is only the first step in legislators’ plans to set up an accountability system. Phase 2, Rothfuss said, will be enacting accountability systems for school districts, teachers and administrators.

“We’re trying to put things in place,” Rothfuss said. “It’s not over yet.”

Contact capital bureau reporter Jeremy Pelzer at 307-632-1244 or jeremy.pelzer@trib.com

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