ACT scores for Wyoming high school juniors increased statewide in 2013 with all three Sheridan school districts scoring in the top 10 districts.
The statewide average for ACT scores this year was 19.7, an increase above last year’s average of 19.4. The state’s highest average score was in Washakie District 2 at 22.4.
Sheridan County School District 1 averaged 21.3, followed closely by SCSD 2 at 21.2 and SCSD 3 at 21.1.
This year is the first year that the ACT test has been used as the state assessment and was required for all Wyoming high school juniors. More than 5,700 students took the test on April 23.
“Ours weren’t as high as we would have liked them to be,” said SCSD 1 Superintendent Marty Kobza. “They weren’t as high as the last couple years, but they are still strong. We had some very strong scores, students who were in the upper 20s and lower 30s, which are excellent scores. The majority were very high, but we had a couple very low scores that impacted our average. Although they are very strong we would like them to be even higher.”
“I am very excited about our ACT scores,” said SCSD 3 Superintendent Charles Auzqui. “It is something we definitely celebrated with students and staff.”
The positive news on local ACT scores comes on the heels of the recent release of PAWS scores, which showed a decline in all grade levels statewide. PAWS is the test Wyoming uses for grades three through eight to determine whether students are achieving state and federal learning standards. Students are tested in the areas of math and reading each year and fourth and eighth graders are also tested in science.
Locally, Sheridan school districts did well in most areas, but concede there is room for improvement. For the most part, Sheridan school districts were proficient or advanced in reading and math, but scores dropped significantly for science. For example, the statewide average of proficient or advanced students for fourth grade science was 57.8 percent. For SCSD 1 it was 53.66 percent, SCSD 2 was 69.47 percent and SCSD 3 was 33.33 percent.
“I think the changing of the format of the test had an impact on a statewide basis,” said Kobza. “We are above the state average in every category tested the only exception was fourth grade science. In every other category we were above the state average. That says to me even though the format changed, our students still did well in comparison to other students across the state.”
Wyoming Department of Education representatives said they believed PAWS scores were lower statewide due to a new testing format and new content standards introduced in the test and this was echoed by local educators as well.
“I definitely agree,” said Auzqui. “The test is aligned more to the Common Core and districts are trying to align their curriculum to the Common Core. Finding that balance between our old standards and new standards is a learning process. The next couple years will be a transition for all districts as we move forward on this journey to the new Common Core.”
One major change to the test was its conversion to multiple-choice only. In addition, last spring’s test was the first year that included questions related to the Common Core State Standards. The CCSS was created and approved by most state governors and education administrators in 2009. The CCSS website states that it is “a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt.”
Half of the questions on the 2012-2013 PAWS test related to the new Common Core standards and this year’s test will have 100 percent of the questions related to the Common Core.
“When these tests change, it has a big impact on our results,” said SCSD 2 Assistant Superintendent Tom Sachse. “We aren’t whining about it, we are explaining it.”
Sachse, SCSD 2 Superintendent Craig Dougherty and Mitch Craft, Sheridan Junior High principal, also added that the Wyoming Department of Education has been opaque on details of the test, making it difficult for teachers to prepare students for it.
“If someone gives our teachers a clear target, they will hit it,” said Craft. “They will work as teams and hit that target. If that target is unclear it poses more of a challenge. All we need is clear targets and we’ll get our students there.”
“This past year was a learning curve, this coming year will be a learning curve and 2015 is going to be more rigorous,” added Dougherty. “We’re anxious about it because we know we have a plan but there is still that unknown in the rigor and where it is. We need to understand exactly what we need to teach.”
“Every single week we are looking at our data with kids,” he continued. “It is not teaching to the test. We want to make sure we create readers, writers and mathematicians who are self extended learners.”
Full results of PAWS scores for local districts can be found on the FUSION tab under Data Reports on the Wyoming Department of Education’s website at edu.wyoming.gov