State Board of Education considers suspending testing performance accountability this year

CHEYENNE — Wyoming’s 48 school districts might not be held accountable for their students’ performance on state standardized tests this school year.

“We (are recommending that) we assess students to the greatest extent possible this year, but do not make any accountability determinations,” Kari Eakins, chief policy officer for the Wyoming Department of Education, proposed to the State Board of Education at a virtual meeting Thursday morning.

The department is “asking that while we do our best to assess what we can in the spring, that we don’t do school performance ratings for our schools for this school year.”

In March, all Wyoming schools – along with most of the schools in the nation – received a federal testing waiver from the U.S. Department of Education as a result of the sudden pandemic-related school closures. The state also suspended its scheduled annual state testing requirement, known as WY-TOPP, for the same reason.

In past years, results of state tests have provided the Department of Education with metrics to hold schools accountable for their performance in areas such as achievement, growth and equity. Based on those indicators, schools are then put into one of four performance categories: exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, partially meeting expectations or not meeting expectations.

However, that data does not exist from the past school year.

“We’re just starting to learn some of the impacts of not having prior year assessment data on some of the accountability data indicators – mainly growth and equity,” Eakins said. She also noted that it’s unclear if the federal government will waive testing requirements this year, but it doesn’t look promising.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said schools “should not anticipate” federal testing waivers this school year.

Over the summer, the state composed an advisory committee of experts to consider how state testing should be handled this year, because schools could face intermittent or full shutdowns if COVID-19 outbreaks necessitate it.  One month into the school year, some students in Laramie County School District 1 have already had to quarantine for a period of two weeks.

“Schools serving disadvantaged student groups would likely be more impacted by interruptions than schools with students that are in better situations,” Eakins said. “Some of the reasoning behind this is that we do not at this moment know if we will be able to assess students in the spring.”

She added that because the accountability program requires at least 95% of students to participate in testing, it might not be possible to reach that mark if schools are operating remotely or through a hybrid of remote and in-person instruction.

The advisory committee has recommended that accountability measures be reset by assessing students to the fullest extent possible next spring, which would ideally make it possible to make more accurate assessments during the 2021-22 school year, if testing resumes then.

“Is there an opportunity to use interim tests? Could we possibly use some data from interim tests to help give us some insight into some of the (effects) of COVID-19?” board member Sue Belish asked.

Laurie Hernandez, director of standards for the education department, said teachers are welcome to use interim testing, which can vary from district to district, “to see if there is a missed area they want to revisit with the class.”

“We’ve communicated not to spend too much time on last year’s curriculum, but more so use some of those assessments to identify where the gaps are, fill those gaps and get them back into this year’s instruction.”

So far this year, 13,000 interim assessments have been taken, Hernandez said.

“If schools that are completely virtual are unable to administer an assessment this year, what would happen?” Board of Education Chair Ryan Fuhrman asked.

Eakins explained that state law allows for waivers on a one-year basis, and that those situations would be made on a case-by-case basis.

The State Board of Education will make a final determination on waiving accountability assessments at its next meeting in October.