GHS reacts to release of PAWS scores

by nathan oster

The 40 Greybull High School juniors who took the ACT during the 2012-13 school year fell short of matching the scores posted by their peers statewide as well as by the previous year’s class of juniors at GHS, according to a report released last week by the Wyoming Department of Education.

GHS students came away with an average composite score of 19.3.  For the 2011-12 school year, the school’s composite was 19.4.  The statewide average for 2012-13, according to the report, was 19.7.

A closer look at the numbers reveals that the GHS juniors compared favorably with the rest of the state in reading.  The GHS test-takers averaged a 20.4.  Statewide, the average was 20.1 in reading.

But GHS students lagged behind the state averages in the areas of English (GHS posted a 17.8, the state an 18.8), math (GHS 19.4, state 19.6) and science (GHS 19.4, state 19.8).

Supt. Barry Bryant acknowledged that the scores were “disappointing, as I know our students are better than the scores attained,” and that “We have work to do to improve students’ achievement on the ACT.”

GHS Principal Ty Flock went deeper into the numbers.

“My first reaction was, we had some kids score really well,” he said. “In fact, we had one kid with a perfect score (36) in reading. That’s a reason to celebrate.”  So too, he said, were scores posted by certain other students in individual subjects. Several topped 30 in English, math, science or reading.

“What affected our overall average, however, were the students who didn’t score really well,” he said. “Some dropped off into the 12s and 13s.  Our concern, my concern, is that those students are not scoring where we’d like them to be scoring.

“But there was a very real discrepancy between our students who scored high and our students who scored low.  There weren’t a lot in between.”

This year is the first in which the ACT acts as the state assessment for high school juniors, which meant all juniors were required to take the test to measure academic performance of the state’s standards.

Flock said GHS is in the process of shifting its emphasis toward helping individual students.

“We have to shift how we are preparing kids for the ACT,” Flock said. “PAWS was aligned to state standards; the ACT isn’t.  Now we need to focus more on the Common Core standards.

“We do teach to the test, in a sense, but I believe if you’re teaching to the test, whether it’s PAWS or the ACT, students are going to learn and that’s what it’s all about. If you’re teaching to the ACT, it’ll not only prepare students for the tests, but also teach them skills they need to be successful in college.”

Flock said other steps have been, or will soon be, taken to boost student performance.  For example, a new reading program will target students who need help in that area, while at the same time, the school is redefining how it’s after-school time is spent to better reach students who are struggling in math.  Flock added that teachers of other subjects are also being asked to do more “literacy instruction.”

While GHS scores were almost across the board in the same ballpark as the scores posted by last year’s junior and this year’s statewide scores, Flock said science “is a concern of mine. We have great science programs and they’re doing some really good things. But our science scores, not just here but statewide, aren’t where I’d like to see them.

“What it’s all about is growth. We want our kids to continue to grow. That’s why we’re adopting new curriculums and why teachers are doing curriculum mapping that is aligned to the Common Core standards. It’s more of an emphasis on learning as opposed to working for grades.”

Bryant predicts that ACT scores at GHS “will rise as we move from focusing on PAWS to the ACT and also move to the Common Core.”

According to the state release, Washakie County School District No. 2 posted the state’s highest composite average, a 22.4.  Big Horn County School District No. 2 was among a group of districts not far behind, coming in at 21.5.