Wyoming Liberty Group
Wyoming PAWS – Teaching to the Test Part I
Wyoming K-12 schools have felt required to “teach to the test” for a number of years now. Wyoming Liberty Group wrote earlier about how the state overall has fallen short of success in spite of those efforts. Here we report on those shortcomings, and rare successes, by individual school districts. We use Wyoming’s PAWS (Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students) data so we’re talking only about our kids, our schools and our test.
Overall, the districts get only about half of their kids to achieve proficiency. Graph 1 summarizes our work, the main element of which is each district’s three-year average percentage of students scoring proficient or better on PAWS math. This was calculated using a weighted average of students in each grade to ensure that results weren’t skewed by a particularly large or small group. Sheridan #2, Sublette #1, Park #6, Park #1, and Washakie #2 are the top five districts in the state on this measure.
The top district, Sheridan #2, shot the lights out, notching a 72.7 percent three-year average – almost six percentage points higher than the next contender, Sublette #1. This means that nearly three-quarters of Sheridan #2’s students are proficient or better, that is, doing work at or above grade level – the state standard. It clearly leaves all other districts eating its dust.
Sheridan #2 does this while being the sixth largest district in the state at 3,400 students, though dwarfed by the largest, Laramie #1 (13,800 students). A lower-cost school district at $13,841 per student (in 2015-16), Sheridan #2 is well below the district average of about $18,600, and lower cost than all but one of the other largest districts. It also distinguishes itself by spending 66% of its operations funding on direct instruction, 4th highest.
Overall, there is a tendency for the top ten proficiency districts to be lower cost (operations) per student (approx. $16,475 versus $23,300) than the ten lowest proficiency districts. They also tend to spend a higher percentage of operations costs on direct instruction (60% versus 55%) than those lowest proficiency districts. Finally, they tend to be larger than the least effective districts, averaging 1,600 students versus about 800.
The five largest districts, Laramie #1, Natrona #1, Campbell #1, Sweetwater #1 and Albany #1, have little to brag about beyond relatively low operations cost per student, about $14,400 each. Sweetwater #1 is the lowest of the group at $13,700 and Albany #1 the highest at $15,100. Albany #1 posts dramatically better proficiency results than the other four largest districts with its 58.5 percent. The next closest, Campbell #1, clocks in at only 49.6 percent.
These largest districts spend an average of about 61 percent of their operations costs on direct instruction which is about the same as the top ten districts, but the funds don’t seem to accomplish as much in achievement for them. Perhaps there is something about their sheer size which limits teaching effectiveness.
The ten districts with the lowest proficiency averages appear to be in truly dire straits. Niobrara #1’s instruction spending ratio looks good, but it’s probably skewed by its online teaching arrangements. We’ve provided superintendent and school board chairperson names and encourage readers to contact them with questions and opinions.
So, it seems most school districts aren’t very successful at imparting narrowly focused, essential subjects – even when they say they’re teaching to the test with vast financial support. Can we believe them when they say that they excel at “teaching the whole child?”