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PAWS scores plunge as new state education standards take effect

Jul 17, 2015 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The 2015 Proficiency Assessments of Wyoming Students test scores released Thursday show worse results this year compared to 2014 data.

The Wyoming Department of Education made the PAWS numbers public online. Officials said the decline was seen across the state in reading and mathematics for students in grades 3-8 and in science for grades 4 and 8.

Higher standards

The reason for the slump was the higher standards set in place a year ago with new tests.

Brent Young, chief policy officer for the WDE, said his agency was not surprised the results were poor. The department estimated it would take three to five years to see improvements after the new standards were implemented.

"A year isn't enough," Young said.

The WDE has set goals to help school districts reach the new standards.

With a billion dollars spent on education in the state, Young explained that it was important not to allow the PAWS test to determine the overall health of Wyoming's education.

"We have to be careful at looking at just one PAWS measurement," he said.

Statewide numbers

Across the state, 41 percent of eighth grade students were proficient or advanced in science this year, while last year that number was at 47 percent.

This year, 51 percent of fourth-graders were proficient or advanced, and in 2014, 52 percent of those students fell under that same category.

The number of students proficient or advanced in reading in grades 3 through 8 was smaller this year than last year, with only a slight increase in fifth grade.

In math, students in grades 4, 6 and 7 also showed only a small increase in the percentage of proficient or advanced scores.

Riverton results

Locally, results in Fremont County School District 25 mostly mirrored the statewide low scores. The only improvements were seen in third-grade math, fourth-grade math, fourth-grade science, fifth-grade math, seventh-grade math and seventh-grade reading.

All other subjects and grade levels showed a drop.

Last year, 51 percent of Riverton Middle School students scored proficient and advanced in math. This year, 37 percent of students scored proficient and advanced in math.

In reading, 51 percent of RMS students in 2013-2014 also scored as proficient and advanced. The number fell to 39 percent for the 2014-2015 school year.

There were 50 percent of eighth-graders who scored proficient and advanced in reading last year, but only 40 percent achieved that score this year.

At Rendezvous Elementary School, more third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students scored in the basic and below level in math and reading.

Roughly 200 students were tested in each grade.

County results

In District 1 in Lander, all grade levels, except seventh-grade math, showed 50 percent or more of students scoring in the proficient and advanced level.

At District 14 (Wyoming Indian), seventh- and eighth-graders scored less than 5 percent as proficient or advanced in math and science.

Fourth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade science at District 38 in Arapahoe scored less than 5 percent in the proficient or advanced level.

Scoring 50 percent or less at the proficient or advanced level at v0 6 in Pavillion were students in fifth-grade math, sixth-grade math, seventh-grade reading and eighth-grade science.

Improvements

WDE officials noted there are several efforts under way to ensure students score higher on PAWS. Superintendent of Public instruction Jillian Balow said a task force is looking at the overall assessment system in the state, and a science standards review team will help implement a system of support as well.

"Wyoming wants to be the very best," she said. "We will ask schools, 'What do you need so we can provide the tools so that you can reach your levels of improvement that you identified?'"

She said a much better approach is delivering the help from the top down --state officials set the goals, revamped the standards and will support the school districts as "they see fit."

The assessment task force will look at other options for a functional assessment system for recommendation to the state Legislature, Young said.

Changes could then come again in 2018 after several "solid years" of testing with this new PAWS test, he added.

Other efforts include creating new staff development exercises, pursuing "outside" experts, working on curriculums, partnering with the University of Wyoming and focusing on leadership opportunities.

Young said the state also hopes to partner with the local superintendent's association to identify the efforts of school districts and share successes and plans.

School improvement grants will continue to be available to help serve districts that need additional assistance.

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