Local students top state averages in PAWS testing

by nathan oster

Big Horn County School District No. 3 students topped the statewide averages in 10 of 14 content areas on the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students (PAWS) during the 2014-15 school year.

The Wyoming Department of Education released the PAWS testing data on July 16.

Students in grades three through eight were tested in reading and mathematics.

Students in grades four and eight also took the science component of the PAWS.

Statewide, PAWS proficiency rates declined across most grade levels and content areas when compared to results achieved on the 2014 exam, according to a release from the Wyoming Department of Education.

Of the three content areas, only science has remained unchanged within the past five years.

The number of students testing at either proficient or advanced did drop this year, however. In 2014, 53 percent of fourth graders and 47 percent of eighth graders achieved proficiency. In 2015, proficiency was achieved by 51 percent of fourth graders and 42 percent of eighth graders. Greybull students topped the state averages in both grades, as 54 percent of fourth graders and 56 percent of eighth graders was determined to be either proficient or advanced.

According to the Department of Education, direct comparisons to any year prior to last year are invalid in the areas of reading and mathematics because major shifts were made in 2014 to the content tested in those two content areas.

Statewide a higher percentage of students tested at either proficient or advanced on four of the 12 reading and math PAWS tests. The four categories in which the proficiency level rose were fifth grade reading and fourth, sixth and seventh grade math.


Local results

Counting the 12 math and reading tests (one each for students in six different grades) and the two science tests, there were a total of 14 examinations in this year’s round of PAWS testing.

A greater percentage of Greybull students achieved proficiency than the statewide average in 10 of those 14 areas. In some, it was by a great deal. Double-digit differences were reported in fifth-grade math (53 percent statewide, 71 percent local) and eighth-grade reading (52 percent statewide, 71 percent local).

The four areas in which a lower percentage of Greybull students achieved proficiency than their peers statewide were third-grade math and reading, sixth-grade math and seventh-grade math.   The third graders, in particular, showed weakness, as 41 percent reached proficiency in reading (compared to 61 percent statewide) and 38 percent reached proficiency in math (compared to 49 percent statewide).

Supt. Barry Bryant said he was pleased that students topped the state average in 10 of the 14 areas, but conceded, “We have a lot of work to do. The cut scores were changed last year based on Common Core and we are still implementing the new curriculum.

“Our teachers and students are working extremely hard and when we have a major change like Common Core, it takes a couple years to get it in place.”

Bryant said the cohort data provided a mixed bag of results.

“Some of the weaknesses I see are based on cohort performance,” said Bryant. “We saw 50 percent of the cohorts making little gain on proficiency, as compared to last year. But in fifth-grade math and seventh-grade math, we saw 13 to 16 percent gains in the cohorts, which was excellent.”


Small part

of big picture

“These scores are only one measure of student success and the health of Wyoming’s education system,” said State Superintendent Jillian Balow. “We know that we need high standards, support for educators, and classroom engagement to see improvement and will be partnering with school districts to make that happen.”

The state accountability law requires the WDE and State Board of Education to develop a statewide system of support for school districts.

“The system of support will focus on school and district level leadership, practices that support educators in helping students meet these higher expectations, and the need to engage students in meaningful work,” said Chief Policy Officer Brent Young. “This will be a grassroots effort coming from those close to education in Wyoming. The WDE is looking forward to the opportunity to support and facilitate these efforts towards increased student success.”

The data produced from PAWS results will be used with data from ACT results for state and federal accountability determinations. ACT results will be released in August and accountability determinations will be released in September.