CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A member of the Rawlins school board was one of several opponents of a school accountability bill Wednesday.
Julie Miller told of challenges to the school district stemming from the city's status as a prison town; it also has a significant Hispanic population.
She said her district wants accountability but the bill before the Senate Education Committee attacks the problem the wrong way.
“Not all children are the same,” Miller said during a public hearing.
The youngest of her four boys, she said, is autistic but has improved in school.
Under the student performance scoring system in Senate File 70, her child would be placed in the “zero” category. “My child is not a zero,” Miller said, choking back tears.
That type of rating system would make it hard for Rawlins to attract good teachers, she said.
The Senate Education Committee heard several hours of testimony on the bill. Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, the committee chairman, emphasized several times that the Legislature is “really, really serious” about accountability.
He noted the state is spending more than $1 billion educating 87,000 children in the state's K-12 schools.
“We want ideas. We want input. This is just the starting point,” Coe said.
The committee, he said, will start marking up the bill next week.
Several school superintendents offered to work on an accountability system they said would be better than the bill before the committee.
The school chiefs and others object primarily to the first part of the bill, which spells out student performance measures for scoring.
The second part of the 30-page bill establishes a Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability, to include legislators and an advisory committee that would primarily feature educators.
During the committee's hearing, Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, reported that only 36 schools “made the cut” on student evaluations of math and reading performance, according to a test run of data by the state Department of Education.
He also told of a high school student who got a perfect ACT score but only rated proficient on the state's Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students, or PAWS test.
The latter test will be used for the student evaluations in the accountability bill at least for the first year.
“I have a little buyer's remorse,” Harshman said. He added that he still wants to move forward with the accountability bill but said he has some concerns.
The weights used to compute the school scores for reading and math are wrong, he said.
Harshman said that although he respects the out-of-state consultant who devised the weighting system, he would prefer Wyoming educators to work on the performance evaluation piece of the program.
Harshman also said writing, in addition to math and reading, should be included.
Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, the co-chairman of the Joint Appropriations Committee, said the Legislature needs to work out accountability this year to get people's support.
If the lawmakers wait until next year it could delay any action on K-12 salaries for another year or two, he said.
Rod Kessler, superintendent of Johnson County schools and president of the Wyoming Association of School Superintendents, said the missing piece of the bill is “ownership.”
He said Wyoming has education experts who can develop the best accountability program in the nation.
Brian Recht, superintendent of Albany County School District 1, said the performance measures in the bill are a “pathway to failure.”
He said the schools have many indicators of performance that would be better.
“Let me help you with the mechanics,” Recht said.
The bill would put the first phase of the accountability system in place this year. In 2013, sanctions can be imposed.
Contact Joan Barron at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-632-1244.