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Feds tell Wyoming to keep using PAWS test; lawmakers disagree

Jul 27, 2012 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

TORRINGTON -- Federal education officials told Wyoming Thursday it should keep administering the state proficiency exam for high school juniors next year.

No Child Left Behind, the federal education law, requires each state to have an assessment of students, schools and districts. Its goal is to achieve proficiency by every student in every subject.

However, earlier this year, the state Legislature directed the Department of Education to discontinue the test known as Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students, or PAWS, for high school juniors.

Lawmakers instructed the department to use results from the standardized ACT test instead.

News of the federal directive came in a letter unveiled by state education officials to members of the Legislature's Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability in Torrington.

The committee responded by directing a consultant to work with the state education department and governor to try to get the federal agency to reverse its position. The committee also reiterated its position that there's no money in the state education budget to administer the PAWS test for Wyoming juniors.

If the directive by the U.S. Department of Education ultimately sticks, it likely would not sit well with Wyoming students, who have protested over the years that the test is too long.

A company called NCS Pearson Inc. has administered the PAWS test since 2007 under a four-year, $40 million contract. The 2010 test was plagued with software problems.

Lawmakers on Thursday questioned what the federal government would do if the state refuses to use the PAWS test.

"Are they going to take away our birthday?" asked Committee Chairman Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Lingle.

Paul Williams, director of the assessment division at the state education department, told the committee that he had been waiting for the letter from the federal agency.

"Our guidance on this matter is for Wyoming to administer the college entrance examinations as well as the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students in grade 11," the federal agency stated in its letter.

Scott Marion, an education consultant to the state, told lawmakers he believes Wyoming should be able to get the federal government to reverse its position by pointing out that the state has required both the ACT and PAWS for high school juniors in recent years. He said it should be possible to correlate results from the two.

The Legislature earlier this year placed the education department on a tight leash, hiring liaisons to monitor the agency's compliance with state laws aimed at increasing accountability for student performance.

Mike Flicek, one of the liaisons hired to monitor the department, told the committee the department has continued to plan to implement the PAWS test next year despite being instructed previously by the Legislature not to conduct it.

Several lawmakers questioned whether the department did its best to convince the federal agency not to require PAWs for high school juniors.

Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, noted the department had crafted a lengthy memo about its desire to conduct a formal study, called a comprehensive peer review, of the ACT test before the federal government would accept it as a substitute for PAWS.

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