PAWS, school accountability discussed

Posted 8/31/10

Members of the Legislature's Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration heard those recommendations during a meeting last week, which Park County District No. 1 Superintendent Kevin Mitchell said was more about accountability than about …

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PAWS, school accountability discussed

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Despite problems with Wyoming's statewide school testing last spring, an outside study of the test has concluded the test results were valid and could be used to measure school progress.Wyoming legislators were also recently advised to keep using the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students (PAWS) test to measure student achievement.

Members of the Legislature's Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration heard those recommendations during a meeting last week, which Park County District No. 1 Superintendent Kevin Mitchell said was more about accountability than about recalibrating school finance.

“There was not much about recalibration,” Mitchell said. “There were hours of discussion about PAWS and accountability.”

During testing last spring, there were widespread reports about technical problems with the PAWS, which students take on-line. Because of the problems, Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jim McBride asked that the results not be used by the U.S. Department of Education to determine whether Wyoming schools achieved Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.

However, consultant Rich Hill, who conducted the outside analysis of the problems with the test, said the study found the problems had little impact on scores. Hill said his group tried hard to find a pattern among students who had difficulties with the test, such as a particular computer platform or a particular group of students, but were unable to find one.

Speaking at a press conference after presenting his report to the committee, Hill said the study “produced scores equivalent to last year,” and the state generally scored higher this year.

“Our conclusion is ... the impact (the students) experienced were infrequent and probably small,” Hill said.

Hill did say that extra care should be taken in using individual student results, and if inconsistencies are found, they “should be considered with a large grain of salt.”

“We always advise that anyway,” Hill said.

In response to the computer difficulties, however, Hill recommended that this year's test be administered by paper and pencil instead of online, a recommendation he said was supported by school administrators. Any glitch in computer administration this year would damage trust in the test, which is already in question because of the problems this year, and the state needs to rebuild trust in the system.

“I think it's a smart move to go to paper and pencil this year and start to rebuild trust in the test,” Hill said.

Mitchell said that advice was consistent with Park County School District No. 1's feeling about the PAWS this year, and the district will use the results as always to determine the effectiveness of Powell schools.

Mitchell also said he believed the state should continue to use the PAWS to test student progress rather than trying to find a new test. He said he isn't aware of any superintendent in the state that doesn't like the PAWS, although there are issues with the length of the test as well as technical issues.

“They do not question the test's validity,” Mitchell said. “We need to stop changing it all the time so we can compare scores to past years. It's hard to hit a moving target.”

Mitchell said there is a strong move among legislators to establish an accountability system that will determine the effectiveness of the funding supplied by the state to its public schools.

“It sounds like at least one legislator intends to introduce some kind of accountably system in the next session,” Mitchell said.

The committee has asked a group of superintendents to work with the State Department of Education, the Wyoming School Boards Association and the Wyoming Education Association to address the problem. In addition, they have asked Allan Odden, an educational consultant to the committee, to propose some sort of accountability system.

Aside from discussion of assessment and accountability, Mitchell said the committee also discussed problems some districts are experiencing with cash flow during the school year that require them to borrow money at times during the year. District No. 1 doesn't have the problem, he said, but all districts have been asked to submit month-by-month cash flow reports to enable the Legislature to address the issue.

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