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Substantial problems in the way the Wyoming Department of Education handled this year’s data required by No Child Left Behind indicate an inability to perform duties required by state law, according to a recent report to legislators.

The nonpartisan Legislative Service Office presented the report to the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Statewide Accountability on Nov. 14. It cited delays, errors and officials’ failure to communicate problems with reporting long-standing federal requirements as well as issues with providing information for new state accountability needs.

Those facts cast doubt on the department’s ability to establish a system necessary to coordinate, analyze and consolidate data for reports on the state of education and other tasks as required by law, according to the report.

During the Nov. 14 meeting, Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill said much of the information presented was not accurate, and she asked for equal time at the committee’s next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 12. A press release from the department on Friday indicated WDE officials are documenting “inaccuracies in the report,” and they plan to present them on Dec. 12.

“That report to the Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability is at best conjecture disguised as a report,” Hill said in the release. It also complained that WDE officials did not have a chance to review the report before it was presented to legislators.

The first page of the report stated, “This is version one of our final report,” and noted that responses from Hill and other officials would be included in other versions.

Two LSO liaisons, directed by the Legislature to oversee operations of the department concerning the accountability act, detailed problems in the federal requirement of tracking and reporting Adequate Yearly Progress. The U.S. Department of Education measures schools’ and districts’ yearly progress toward a goal of 100 percent of students testing at least proficient on state assessments by 2014.

Data management and reporting is critical, liaison Michael Flicek told committee members.

“In order for data-informed improvement efforts to happen, it’s critical that when the people in charge of the data put out a report, people can count on it — that the data is accurate and reliable,” Flicek said. “When they have that confidence, then they can go ahead and make decisions.”

On Sept. 18, the Education Department publicly released AYP results with errors, according to the report. Districts received some of their data to review one working day before state officials planned to publicly release results. Soon after, WDE officials agreed to give districts another four days to review the information.

When errors were found in the released data, WDE officials removed the incorrect results from the website without notifying the public.

Initial results incorrectly stated 52 percent of the state’s 349 schools didn’t meet AYP benchmarks, and one table — using a wrong value — suggested 98 percent of schools failed to meet adequate yearly progress, according to the report.

The department revised its data and returned it to districts Oct. 11 for review, asking local officials to review them in less than 24 hours, according to the report.

The department publicly released AYP results again Oct. 12 and published a formal release Oct. 18.

The revised results show 40 percent of schools didn’t meet AYP standards for 2012.

The release and re-release of AYP results caused confusion for educators, who, in turn, questioned the value of the information, according to the report.

Natrona County School District officials appealed local results after the September release, saying then the data seemed “unstable.”

NCSD officials were delayed in reporting final results to the local board of trustees, teachers and parents, but it didn’t significantly alter decisions, according to Mark Mathern, the district’s associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

“I think our district actions are more connected to our district data review than they are to our AYP scores,” Mathern said, adding district measures also take into account not just status, but growth and improvement.

Teton County School District students fared better in some areas in the second round of AYP results, said Superintendent Pamela Shea. She also said the district continued improvement efforts from the previous year, which changed little with the new results.

During the busy time of starting the school year, not knowing “just made communication just a little more difficult,” she said.

Other problems included:

Errors in the initial data gave contradictory information that made it impossible to tell if some schools had made AYP. Additionally, at least one school district notified WDE officials about a problem with the data as early as July.

Inconsistent application of safe harbor subgroups — ethnic groups, English language learners, special education students and students receiving free or reduced lunch. These groups can help schools meet requirements based on the amount of improvement they make.

There was an absence of “mobile” students — those who enter a school district after Oct. 1 and should not be included in the calculations. The department reported there were no mobile students in the state.

Flaws in reports for special education students on individual education plans.

The department also left some data fields blank, including students who were the “tested” and “not tested.”

After the final release of AYP, problems continued and districts still lacked some data to verify the accuracy of safe harbor calculations, according to the report.

The liaison report described a “substantial loss of institutional knowledge, experience and capacity” in areas including data management, reporting and information technology as well as administration.

The liaisons reviewed names and positions of WDE staff members and found 48 percent from November 2010 were gone by September 2012.

“This loss has impacted WDE’s ability to carry out charges by [the accountability act],” according to the presentation to legislators.

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Reach education reporter Elysia Conner at 307-266-0593 or elysia.conner@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @ElysiaConner.

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