Jillian Balow

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow prepares to enter the joint session of the Wyoming Legislature last year at the Jonah Business Center in Cheyenne. Balow praised a new law related to elementary school testing.

Inherent to the Wyoming ethos is the belief that local control is best. The closer someone is to an issue, the better positioned they are to make a meaningful effort to address it.

This should go without saying when it comes to education. Educators, school staff and parents are clearly more in touch with the day-to-day realities in the school system than state administrative officials who don’t experience the issues firsthand. When it comes to comprehensive year-end testing and reporting, the Natrona County School District has stressed the value of local control – an effort that ultimately resulted in new legislation to tackle the issue.

A new law regarding the way districts throughout the state assess and address students’ literacy was recently praised by State Superintendent Jillian Balow, following a long and often contentious debate between the Natrona County schools and Wyoming’s top education official. And while Balow might not have always been the bill’s greatest champion we’re glad she worked with local educators and other lawmakers to make it a reality.

Statewide assessments may serve a purpose, but as argued by several local educators, as well as a state education task force, the state’s current system isn’t the best way to understand the abilities of elementary school students.

According to the Natrona County educators who spearheaded this new measure, the previous law was open to too much interpretation and provided data that wasn’t helpful to students. So they approached the state board of education and brought a bill to the general session.

The purpose of the law is to clarify testing requirements and ensure that students are reading at grade level. It will give districts more agency regarding how they test for reading abilities, as well as what they do to improve it. Across the state, the expectation remains that 85 percent of students should be reading at grade level by the end of third grade. But under the new rules, districts that fall below that mark will be required to craft and implement a plan to increase that rate. Local educators will also have more control over the assessments that are used in their classrooms.

Without the obligation to follow a course of action prescribed by the state, districts will have the flexibility and the obligation to address their specific needs.

Previous law required districts to report longitudinal data, which allows the state to compare districts and study progress over time. But Natrona County officials have long maintained that this was ineffective for measuring young students’ progress, and under the new law, they are no longer required to do so.

Literacy is absolutely vital to a student’s long-term academic success, and kindergarten through third grade is a pivotal time in a child’s development. Providing local educators and school districts the tools and flexibility to give their students the best chance at success, as well as the responsibility to intervene appropriately when those students encounter obstacles, is a good move.

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