Fed feedback won't change Wyoming's plan for schoolsSep 8, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer
No matter what the U.S. Department of Education thinks of Wyoming's plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act, state officials are unlikely to make changes, according to Brian Farmer, executive director of the Wyoming School Boards Association.
While meeting Tuesday with Fremont County's administrators and school board members in Riverton, Farmer outlined the approach his group will take for lobbying legislators next year. He also talked about what schools can expect for the rollout of ESSA.
Wyoming's ESSA plan was sent to the federal government for approval after Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow signed off on it Aug. 17.
The federal education policy replaced No Child Left Behind, giving states more authority to define education goals.
States are required to submit their plans to the Department of Education, detailing how the plans will provide a quality education.
States were required to submit their plans by Sept. 18.
Though DOE secretary Betsy DeVos has approved all plans so far, her agency did give strong feedback to Nevada, New Mexico and especially Delaware.
DeVos faced some blowback for the scrutiny, and Delaware decided to keep its plan essentially untouched.
No matter what scrutiny Wyoming's plan receives, Farmer said state officials will probably take a similar approach.
Farmer said other tweaks to the ESSA plan are only likely to happen based on local leadership. However, he said the plan will probably stay untouched if "local school boards do what the state expected."
Wyoming's boldest proposal is the goal to increase its graduation rate to 88 percent within 15 years.
The number already has been going up, reaching 80 percent in 2016 - the highest it's been in six years.
Farmer said it's reasonable to argue that "the other bold goals maybe aren't so bold" in Wyoming's ESSA plan.
The state's goal for reading and math does not yet have baseline data, as progress will be based on achievement in the new Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress being rolled out this year to replace the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students.
The current achievement goals are based off PAWS testing and will possibly be altered after the first round of scores comes in.
As the 2018 legislative session approaches, Farmer is again hoping for a partial rollback of the Wyoming Accountability in Education Act, which calls for the Wyoming Department of Education to develop rules that will tie teacher evaluations to student academic performance.
A bill had moved quickly through the Wyoming Legislature this year that would have killed the rule. However, the House and Senate never reconciled their two versions of the bill after senators added a late amendment that would have allowed districts to fire continuing contract teachers for "ineffective teaching as defined by board rule."
The Legislature will take up the proposal again next year. This time, Farmer said the state will work to develop teacher accountability rules that could apply to a new bill, or to the law that "nobody really likes."
Farmer said lobbying for school quality initiatives -- not issues of school finance -- are his main priority.
"It's not about the money," he said. "It's about our kids."
That statement came only a few days after the state released its annual assessment of the performance of Wyoming's schools.
In that report, the overall performance of Riverton and Dubois high schools dropped from the previous year, while Wind River High School's performance rose.
The state downgraded Riverton and Dubois after their graduation rates fell below the state's target, moving them from "meeting expectations" to "partially meeting expectations."
Likewise, it was the improved graduation rate at Wind River High School that upgraded its overall performance level from "not meeting expectations" to "partially meeting expectations."
The overall ranking are based on five factors.