CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Delays and other changes Wyoming lawmakers made to the state's ongoing effort to improve K-12 public education during the recently completed legislative session have drawn praise from educators who say accountability shouldn't be rushed.
"I think we're on the right track, and we're trying to get a system that in the end does what's best and assures that our kids, when they leave high school, have a chance to be successful at whatever endeavors they go into," Mark Higdon, executive director of the Wyoming School Boards Association, said Thursday.
Lawmakers have been working for several years to bring more accountability to the state's public schools after some questioned whether Wyoming was getting adequate results for the amount of money it spends on education. The idea behind the effort is to measure progress of student academic growth in order to help identify schools, administrators and teachers who may not be performing up to task.
"I think ultimately what we really want to accomplish is to help create the best education system in this country," Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Lingle and chairman of the House Education Committee, said.
Key changes approved the legislators during the session that ended last week include delaying until the 2013-14 school year the start of measuring how well each school is doing in relation to student performance. In addition, the effort to develop a system to measure the performance of individual teachers, superintendents, principals and other educators will be delayed until the 2015-16 school year.
"I think putting the timelines out allows everyone to have some input and then also to really look at it closely and determine what's best for our kids and how to do it the best way without jumping into it and then having to fix it again shortly thereafter," Dave Barker, president of the Wyoming Association of School Administrators, said.
Another change lawmakers approved involved abandoning the concept of trying to link a specific teacher - a so-called teacher of record - to a student's performance because it was impractical.
"We're still ultimately going to be tying student achievement to teacher performance," Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said. "But I think they'll know what the game plan is."
Kathy Vetter, president of the Wyoming Education Association, said multiple teachers and school staff have contact with each student.
"I think it was a good decision to try and find another way because it's difficult to say which one teacher made the big difference with a student," Vetter said.
Lawmakers say there's more work still to be done on education reform over the coming years. But one aspect that remains constant is their commitment to funding K-12 education, which amounts to about $1.5 billion a year.
"We have managed our finances well in Wyoming and school finance is still in good shape, and we're not looking in the foreseeable future to any sort of cuts like what other states area," Teeters said. "And really that's the cornerstone behind a successful system, making sure it's adequately funded. And we will continue to do that."