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Wyoming Failure on PAWS, NAEP & ACT

What do PAWS, NAEP & ACT have in common besides being arcane acronyms? They are all K-12 education testing systems, each testing different age groups by subject, with the object of assessing what kids know and can do. They’ve also become canaries in the coal mine telling us our education systems and theories are ineffective. See the four graphs below.

WY PAWS Results 1

WY Pupils Scoring 1

2015 16 ACT Performance Levels

Ailing canaries are visible everywhere in the percentages of students scoring “not proficient.” While the definition of what is considered proficient varies from test to test, they all describe the same result: far too many of Wyoming’s kids cannot be considered proficient in vital life skills at all ages.

Only in PAWS is the proportion of non-proficient students on any subject below one-half. PAWS appears to be the least rigorous of the systems. Further, it was hand-picked by the Wyoming Department of Education and State Board to be Wyoming’s system and to conform to Common Core standards.

Think about it. If Amazon.com, the internet behemoth which sells all things, delivered your order incorrectly more than half of the time, would you continue to order from them? Heck no! If Amazon saw even a 2 percent failure rate, let alone 50 percent, you can bet heads would roll and big changes would be made. It simply wouldn’t be tolerated. Why doesn’t the K-12 system react in the same way? Hold that thought – we’ll come back to it in a moment.

Readers may question how fair it is to compare Wyoming K-12 education with Amazon. Perhaps it’s not fair. Amazon is vastly bigger and far more complex operationally, geographically, monetarily, demographically, technologically, culturally – in fact, in any way you can think of it is more complicated.

You may say Amazon just delivers inanimate objects whereas schools “develop human beings.” Not so. The purpose of schools is to educate according to a defined curriculum, no more, no less and only for limited periods of time.

Humans, at all ages, develop themselves. In addition, to say human beings working for Amazon don’t develop is false. Amazon takes people of many ages and skills and trains them, advances them and exposes them to the entire world in all its diversity and complexity – global in scope, millions of products and customers, hundreds of thousands of vendors and employees. It cannot be said human development doesn’t occur at Amazon.

We say it’s more than fair to compare Wyoming K-12 education with Amazon. What’s not fair is to set a high standard of achievement for education (which we have done: W.S. 21-2-204(b)(iv) “Ensure all students leave Wyoming schools career or college ready”), pretend it doesn’t exist and not hold anyone seriously and personally accountable when we have this system-wide failure.

Here’s one big difference between Amazon and our schools. Amazon knows every order it gets is different so they don’t just send the same sized box down the inventory aisle to gather the items. They customize the size of the box(es) to provide the necessary volume a given order will need. Amazon does this primarily for quality of service to the customer but also to minimize costs.

In contrast, schools pretty much treat each child as though he/she is a box the same size as any other child in his/her grade. Grade levels are assumed to correspond to chronological age. That very concept dates back at least one hundred fifty years. But we have long known each child has different capabilities and rate of development, so this is an outmoded and ineffective methodology. And cost is not considered an issue.

If a child is advanced in English, underperforming in math, and at grade level in science – it doesn’t matter – he/she stays at grade level in all subjects. This is because Common Core (which Wyoming has) says if you’re in 7th grade in Cheyenne and you move to Houston, you must fit right in to 7th grade there. You are just another box for subject matter to be placed in as the system prescribes.

Back to our previous question: why doesn’t the education system respond to failure as Amazon would? Amazon fires people when the system doesn’t deliver near-perfection and it rewards people for making it closer to perfect. Schools rarely (except for the most egregious reasons) fire anyone or reward good performance.

Amazon accepts criticism and acts upon it for its own improvement. Schools react to criticism from teachers with punishment. They have ostracized parents who challenge them as troublemakers. And they respond to falling graduation rates by lowering standards.

Furthermore, schools have many incentives to maintain the status quo and few if any for taking serious remedial action. So, the answer is it’s a government system; government systems don’t measurably change, regardless of the damage they do, unless forced to. That is not what we want from our schools. For what we in Wyoming have been spending ($1.5+ billion per year) can’t our “experts” find a solution and do much, much better? If not, why do we choose to keep employing them?

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Comments 1

Guest - Lyle Hartman on Friday, 28 July 2017 13:03

We need a competitive education system. A voucher system and parental choice. The public school mafia has held our children hostage long enough. Our education system is to actually educate our children, not just be a wage and benefit package for educrats.

We need a competitive education system. A voucher system and parental choice. The public school mafia has held our children hostage long enough. Our education system is to actually educate our children, not just be a wage and benefit package for educrats.
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Tuesday, 26 September 2017
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