Wyoming legislative panel moves to strip duties, funding from Department of Education

2012-12-12T08:12:00Z 2013-01-31T10:03:07Z Wyoming legislative panel moves to strip duties, funding from Department of EducationBy ELYSIA CONNER Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
December 12, 2012 8:12 am  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — After approving a report that detailed numerous failures by the Wyoming Department of Education to assist in developing a statewide accountability system, legislators gave initial approval to a bill that would shift several responsibilities and some funding from the department to the State Board of Education.

The bill would also remove the superintendent as a voting member of the board. Future funding for the reform effort would go directly to the state board instead of through the WDE.

The bill, legislators on the Select Committee on Education Accountability said Wednesday, is to ensure tasks are completed more efficiently to meet the requirements of the Wyoming Accountability in Education Act.

A model to rate the state's schools and provide support and resources based on the ratings was expected by Oct. 15. The new due date is early summer.

“We’re going to be pushing a lot of the work that’s been done by the department onto the State Board of Education. We cannot relive the last year,” committee co-chairman Matt Teeters, R-Lingle, said after the meeting, noting that delays have compounded.

“I’m not ready to sacrifice another year,” he said. “We are ready to move on this and we have the capacity to hire the people that know how to do the work.”

The committee’s bill would assign the board more authority and responsibility, including the creation of the model to rate schools based on data such as academic growth, student assessment scores and graduation rates. Because of the delays in creating the model, the bill would push back by one year timelines for various steps in creating the system to rate schools.

The bill draft also is designed to ensure the board receives data needed to create the model through the Department of Enterprise Technology Services. The board also would work more closely with state-hired consultants.

"It looks like our role in the accountability process will be substantially reduced," said John Masters, WDE's accountability leader.

Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, said after Wednesday’s meeting that the bill should help the state board's processes flow more smoothly, adding he acknowledges that legislators had set some unrealistic deadlines. But, he said, some of the delays were caused by the department not being able or willing to perform certain duties on time.

“I don’t think there’s been a really good flow of support from the department to the State Board of Education,” he said. “I think we’re trying to rectify that today."

The committee also recommended a separate bill that delays implementation of components of education accountability by up to several years. The bills will go before the full Legislature, which convenes Jan. 8.

Board accepts report

The critical report — by nonpartisan liaisons, legislatively tasked with monitoring progress toward meeting the requirements of the Accountability Act — cited numerous delays caused by the department’s lack of action and capacity to complete its tasks, including work to create an accountability model.

The select committee heard the report from the Legislative Service Office at its Nov. 14 meeting, where state Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill requested equal time at the next meeting. Her department missed two deadlines, the last on Dec. 3, to submit a response for the committee’s consideration, but the committee said she could make a 30-minute oral presentation.

WDE officials publicly released a 541-page response Monday night and held a press teleconference Tuesday. However, at the committee meeting Wednesday, Hill spent most of her 30 minutes presenting a demonstration of the department’s model to rate schools.

“At the highest level, it was an effort to turn the conversation in a positive direction,” Masters said after the meeting. “We didn’t receive a lot of guidance from the professional judgment panel or the state board in advance of that."

Teeters, the committee's co-chairman, said Hill's testimony was just another part of a "bizarre" episode that has played out over the past month.

"So I have no idea what's going on," he said.

The Education Department was given the task by the Legislature of providing a model to rate schools; a panel would then identify standards in order to rank the schools. However, the consultant working with the panel created his own model after it was unclear if WDE officials would provide one, according to the LSO report.

Neither version is currently a comprehensive model but rather sets of calculations that must be tested and adjusted, a consultant told legislators Wednesday. The bill would set a new due date in June.

The department’s written response said many of the problems in building the system to rate and support schools were not caused by the department. Their response blamed the State Board of Education coordinator and a consultant hired to work with a panel to set the bar for school performance standards based on data such as graduation rates and students’ academic growth.

The LSO liaisons reviewed the WDE response and stood by their original Nov. 13 report.

“We feel that our conclusions are accurate, and it was an accurate reflection of the work that got taken place during the interim up to the point when we made our presentation,” liaison Michael Flicek said. “In fact, there’s quite a bit of material in their report that is reflecting work that’s happened after we made our report.”

Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, said he hoped the differences could be put aside and all entities work together to bring about reform to make students better prepared for college and careers.

"I think hopefully that we can all move forward and utilize the expertise from (Hill's) department, from the Legislature, as well as the Board of Education, as well as the consultants," Anderson said. "And I think that we're going to start moving forward."

Hill said she appreciated Anderson's comments.

"We all need to focus on the real work at hand," she said. "That's what our teachers and our educators, our parents and our communities are doing and that's what we need to continue to do."

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