By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
After five months of anxiously waiting, the State Board of Education finally got the answer its members were looking for, clearing the way for adoption of statewide computer standards.
Well, an answer, at least.
Back in June, the board asked Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to give her opinion regarding the constitutionality of the proposed computer science standards that have been in limbo for nearly two years.
On Friday, the board released the attorney general’s opinion to the public, which consisted of 20 pages addressing questions, concerns and advice on how to move forward with the standards, which the board ultimately voted to do.
It was a long proceeding on Friday, with the board members meeting in an executive session for nearly three hours to discuss the AG’s opinion before reconvening to take public testimony and vote on the standards.
Once they came back from the executive session, board member Sue Belish told the audience to “not panic.”
“The public should be aware that we have a lot of discussion and work to do in relation to this opinion,” she said. Hill’s opinion addressed five questions from board Chairman Walt Wilcox, ranging from what determines which content and performance standards were mandatory for all students in grades K-12, whether labeling the curriculum in a certain way would infringe upon student uniformity and the effectiveness of implementation and aligning with the existing standards in schools across the state.
In her opinion, Hill told Wilcox that the terminology in the standards was confusing and certain words weren’t used consistently.
“There are three types of state standards: content, performance and graduation,” she wrote. “The proposed computer science standards use three different labels (priority, supporting and enhanced). The word ‘benchmarks’ can refer to either the discrete items of knowledge that compose the standards or the grade-level or grade-band targets where those items must be taught.”
Hill told the board that it should designate certain benchmarks from among the content and performance standards that are required for high school graduation, as well as set benchmarks for elementary and junior high students. She suggested removing the words “priority” and “supporting” from the benchmark description.
In a memo to the board from Kari Eakins, chief policy officer for the Department of Education, she described the three labels as:
- Priority: All students are expected to be instructed on and demonstrate the mastery of the content and performance expectations included in these benchmarks.
- Supporting: All students are expected to be instructed in these standards, taught within the context of the priority standards.
- Enhanced: Students have an opportunity for enrichment above what all students are expected to know and do as required by the priority benchmarks.
In her conclusion, Hill noted that just because these standards will be mandatory for all schools, this doesn’t mean all students will have to learn all of them. She reiterated that the board should determine graduation requirements to include the computer science standards component and content benchmarks that should be mastered in lower grade levels and only create performance standards for those benchmarks.
For the standards to be considered effective by the 2022-2023 school year, which is when the board plans to have them implemented, all districts should have aligned their instructional materials and assessments standards by that time.
Laurie Hernandez, the Department of Education’s standards and assessment director, told the board most of the public comments the department received over the summer on the standards had to do with their implementation rather than their content.
Belish said she heard a number of elementary school teachers expressing concern about how daunting and difficult the standards seemed to be.
“I think it’s more about the language of understanding with these new standards,” Hernandez responded. “This was the same thing with the 2012 math standards. Once I explained the language to those teachers, a lot of them told (me) they were already teaching those things. So that’s why we verified the comments as a concern over implementation.”
Public comments on the standards came from educators and students from across the state, including a senior from Laramie High School, Laramie County School District No. 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown and Fremont County School District No. 6 Superintendent Diana Clapp.
“After I took biology my freshman year, I decided that I wanted to go into genetics,” said Catherine Ballard, the Laramie High School student. “When I was looking at classes I would need to take in high school to prepare me for college, computer science was one of them, which piqued my interest. Computer science is applicable in so many ways and while I know some teachers are hesitant to dive into computer science since they haven’t been trained in it, I urge the board to pass rigorous standards for the workforce these students will one day enter.”
Clapp and Brown, while saying they knew these standards were important, felt they needed time to digest the attorney general’s opinion. Brown stated that LCSD1 has embraced moving forward with the standards, but also admitted that there might be hurdles to overcome, since they are so new. In the end, the board unanimously passed the standards with a couple of amendments to the language. First, the board clarified that “enhanced” benchmarks would be available to all students, but they wouldn’t be mandatory for all.
The second amendment was to remove the performance level descriptors (PLD) from the standards for kindergarten through fifth grade, but still making the PLDs available to educators in a guidance document.