After two years of disruptions, Wyoming students are in the midst of test taking that helps state and federal education departments assess learning – a sign that school is returning to normal.
The Wyoming Department of Education in late March of 2020 canceled all testing for the rest of the semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Exams like Wyoming’s Test of Proficiency and Progress, which assess students abilities in English, science and math, were nixed that year.
“We canceled everything and then put in the waiver to waive our state accountability and federal accountability,” said Laurie Hernandez, standards and assessment director at the Wyoming Department of Education.
Testing resumed in spring 2021, but those scores were not used to determine whether or not schools were meeting state and federal accountability standards. The Department of Education submitted an addendum to its compliance plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act, federal law that took the place of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2015.
Identifying low-performing schools is part of the state’s plan; schools that are “partially meeting” or “not meeting expectations” must fill out a school improvement plan. Low-performing schools receive extra support from WDE and are eligible for federal funds. Wyoming’s updated compliance plan pushed low-performance school identification to 2022-23, because at least two years of data are required to determine whether or not schools need additional support, according to WDE Chief Policy Officer Wanda Maloney.
In the interim, schools identified as low-performing in 2018-19 “were held constant,” Maloney said. “Many had started professional development or interventions, and so we wanted [them] to be able to continue to excel and provide them the funding they needed.”
If parents weren’t comfortable sending their kids to school to take tests in Spring of 2021, they were not forced to do so. Normally, testing is mandatory and parents don’t have the option to opt out. Ultimately, 96.6% of students in Wyoming were tested in 2021, only a slight decrease from the 99% that usually participate.
The WDE is still in the process of analyzing test results from 2021, but so far it appears students in Wyoming did not experience severe learning loss reported in many other parts of the country during pandemic education disruptions. “There was a little bit of slip, but not anywhere to the degree that there was nationally,” Hernandez said.
Statewide assessments are underway at many Wyoming schools this year, and Hernandez says so far things have gone smoothly. “We really make sure everybody understands that it’s a snapshot in a moment in time for the student.”