CASPER, Wyo. — Despite direction otherwise from the U.S. Department of Education, state education officials plan to remove the Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students for 11th-grade students this school year and replace the test with the ACT.
The State Board of Education on Monday approved negotiations to amend a contract with Education Testing Service to remove PAWS for 11th-grade students per legislative mandate. The Wyoming Department of Education also canceled its Accountability Study Group and a department position the state Legislature hadn’t mandated or approved.
The changes came after the Legislature’s Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability last month clarified its position that funds will not be available under any circumstance for the 11th-grade PAWS and that the study group and the position are not appropriate uses for the funds in question.
“They have given us a sense of the intention of the Legislature and we’re going to act consistently with that intention,” said John Masters, the state education department’s accountability leader. He said the study group and the position were intended to assist the state board’s accountability work. Masters added that the department is seeking alternate ways to maintain the employee position.
The Wyoming Department of Education had planned to spend about $48,000 for the study group and about $160,000 for the employee from a $250,000 pot of money that the Legislature had intended for the State Board of Education’s tasks. The board had planned to use the funds for some of its duties mandated by the Wyoming Accountability in Education Act, including hiring two consultants and funding a 30-member Professional Judgment Panel to develop a statewide education rating system. The department’s move will allow the board to direct the $250,000 to its planned tasks.
The Wyoming Accountability in Education Act calls for a college entrance exam, such as the ACT, to replace the PAWS for high school juniors. It also directed the Wyoming Department of Education to request a federal waiver to replace the exam.
In its response to Wyoming’s request to replace the PAWS, the U.S. Department of Education instructed the state to administer both the PAWS and the ACT test for one more year in order to collect data for study.
During a July 26 select committee meeting, some legislators questioned the state education department’s methods in asking for the waiver. The committee passed motions to clarify its stance that 11th-grade PAWS longer is relevant based on implemented legislation and that no funds were available for the test.
“…There is plenty of ... information that can be developed from existing information; regardless of discussions with the United States Department of Education, this committee finds and believes there is no purpose for expenditure of funds for administration of PAWS in the 11th grade,” one motion states.
The committee also directed a consultant to work with the Wyoming Department of Education and the governor’s office to seek a reconsideration of the U.S. Department of Education’s decision.
“When you are asked to do additional work but not provided additional resources, it always creates new challenges,” Masters said about whether the legislative decisions will impact the state education department.
A major issue the department faces concerning the ACT is whether the assessment will ever need to be augmented or aligned with state standards, according to Paul Williams, the Wyoming Department of Education’s director of assessment. The letter from the U.S. Department of Education said the ACT must go to peer review, he said during Monday’s State Board of Education meeting.
The committee stated July 26 that it found no need to provide any additional studies for alignment studies, content validity or augmentation of the questions for the ACT.
Select committee member Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Natrona, said the Legislature considers the ACT a more relevant assessment of high school juniors than the time-consuming and expensive PAWS test. The ACT is used for college entrance and is part of the Hathaway Scholarship requirements. It also incorporates more consistent interstate standards.
“The legislators said, ‘We want our kids to be successful. What’s the way to get there?,’” Harshman said. “Well, it’s to put emphasis and importance on the ACT, because that’s what matters to kids and families.”