CASPER, Wyo. — The ACT serves as a catchall standardized test in Wyoming, used for everything from measuring school accountability to determining a student’s prospects for a Hathaway scholarship.
But some say Wyoming relies on a test that doesn’t reflect what’s taught in Wyoming schools.
The Wyoming Assessment Task Force — a group of principals, teachers and other educators — suggested in its report last month that the ACT should no longer be mandatory for juniors.
The committee noted two issues with the ACT: Both the performance of schools and the students’ level of proficiency is being evaluated through the ACT, but the test isn’t aligned with the curriculum in their schools, which is based on Common Core.
Only about 70 percent of the ACT aligns with Common Core, said Christopher Dresang, vice principal at Natrona County High School and a task force member.
Wyoming’s state assessment of schools uses ACT scores to measure proficiency, but that’s problematic because teachers sometimes use different curriculum in the classroom from what students encounter on the test, Dresang said.
Teachers are forced to teach to two different standards if they want their students to succeed with both the core curriculum and the standardized test, he added.
Ultimately the state Legislature will decide whether to follow the task force’s recommendation and change mandatory ACT testing for juniors.
Juniors would have the option of taking another test more suited to a future other than college — such as the ACT Workkeys test, a job-skills assessment that evaluates a student’s strengths and weaknesses — before they choose a career path.
Jillian Balow, Wyoming state superintendent of public instruction, agrees with the task force that the ACT is a poor assessment tool for school accountability, but isn’t sold on the idea of making the test optional in 11th grade, she said.
Balow’s administration has called college, career and military readiness the central vision of her administration. But, while giving kids a choice in 11th grade may seem like it falls in line with Balow’s creed, she doesn’t see it that way. Doing away with the mandatory ACT will limit student options before they’re even out of high school, she said.
The ACT also provides important big-picture data, Balow said. It is a baseline of performance that can be compared from one year to the next, she said.
“Any time we have longitudinal data, that is stable from to year, that gives us really good information about the health of our education system and the performance of our students,” she said. “That is the purpose of standardized tests.”
Audrey Kleinsasser, another task force member and a professor at UW’s Department of Education, said the cornerstone of the debate is assessment literacy: understanding how and why we assess learning.
For example, Wyoming’s ACT scores aren’t comparable with states that only test students who choose the ACT, she said.
And Wyoming’s ACT scores are below standard. Last year, Wyoming juniors on average fell short of the ACT minimum score required for admission to the University of Wyoming. But that average may be influenced by students who are not interested in going on to college, but are forced to take the test.
“In general we make far too much out of a single test. And we need to be careful about the decisions we make out of a single test,” she said.
The Select Committee on Education Accountability meets Dec. 14 and 15 in Jackson, where the issue will likely be debated again as lawmakers consider possible bills for the upcoming session.