By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Focused teachers, involved parents and good planning are the secrets to high test scores in Wyoming, school administrators say.
Plus it helps to live in a small town.
While numerous Wyoming schools performed well on last year’s Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress, a few top scorers told Cowboy State Daily the secrets to their success. The highest-scoring districts reported between 69% and 87% of students in the proficient and advanced categories – and populations no bigger than 6,500 in their towns.
However, the most populous school districts in Wyoming, Laramie County School District No. 1 of Cheyenne and Natrona County School District No. 1 of Casper, did not fare as well on the WyTOPP last year, averaging 43% and 47% in the proficient and advanced categories, respectively, across all subjects and grades.
The state average of all subjects and grades was 49.6% proficient and advanced.
The test is given to third through 10th-grade students in Wyoming and is often referenced by state lawmakers in education funding and planning.
In the tiny towns of Clearmont and Aravada, third graders topped the state for reading and writing scores last year, with 75.7% of them in the proficient and advanced categories.
Elementary school teachers are a huge part of that success, said Chase Christensen, superintendent of Sheridan County School District No. 3.
Third- and fourth-grade teacher Megan Moore “does a tremendous job of building on the skills that students show up with from the (first- and second-grade) classroom,” said Christensen.
In the first- and second-grade classroom at Clearmont Elementary School, Joslyn Camino “is amazing,” Christensen said. “She’s brought science and reading into the district and is really pushing growth for all of our elementary school.”
The superintendent said he’s new to the job, but so far has been “amazed” with the entire elementary school staff, their willingness to try new strategies and push the whole school forward.
Christensen also credited the small community and small class sizes in the district, which was an advantage reported by many of the top-scoring districts.
Sheridan County No. 3 has been using reading-based literacy instruction for the past three years and has been improving its technology access.
Also, many parents are there for the kids, said Christensen.
“It’s clear that education is valued and supported,” he said. “We’ve got great parents, and teachers who want to be here.”
Christensen also congratulated the other school districts in Sheridan County (Nos. 1 and 2), which had high WyTOPP scores across various grades.
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh
In Pinedale, the fourth graders of Sublette County School District No. 1 averaged the highest scores in their grade, with about 74% scoring proficient and advanced.
WyTOPP tests fourth graders on English, math and science.
The fifth graders of Tensleep, in Washakie County School District No. 2, averaged the highest in test scores with about 87% landing in the proficient and advanced categories.
WyTOPP tests Wyoming fifth graders on English and math.
And in Thermopolis, Hot Springs County School District No. 1, about 78% of sixth graders scored proficient and advanced for English and math, the only two subjects the test applies to the grade.
Superintendents from the three districts did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily phone messages.
About 74.2% of Powell eighth graders were proficient and advanced in the three test subjects of English, math and science.
Jason Sleep, assistant superintendent of Park County School District No. 1, said the agricultural community all around Powell is a nice environment in which to educate, and is full of supportive people.
Sleep also credited the school’s use of the “professional learning community” process, which helps teachers check on students and route them into learning avenues that address their needs.
The process starts with identifying which standards are essential, then giving a routine assessment to see how students are doing with those standards. Students who have learned the standard go into an “enrichment” section, while students who haven’t yet learned the concept go into an “intervention” during the school day, said Sleep.
Sleep praised Powell’s teachers.
“Our people make up the culture,” he said. “We have teachers that are student-focused; they have a desire to see kids succeed – and that goes from custodians all the way up the principals.”
Sleep said students thrive on celebration.
“We celebrate like crazy when kids are successful,” he said. “We’re very proud of what we’re doing.”
Ninth graders in Mountain View, Uinta County School District No. 4, averaged the highest across their test’s English and math scores, with 80.4% of students in the proficient and advanced categories.
The district superintendent did not immediately respond to a Cowboy State Daily phone message.
Hard work is paramount in Basin.
Nearly 69% of Big Horn County School District No. 4 10th graders scored proficient and advanced across WyTOPP’s English, math and science tests.
“Well they work hard,” said district superintendent Dave Kerby, adding that Basin’s Riverside High School was recognized in 2018-19 as one of the top five high schools in Wyoming. The school’s average ACT scores last year ranked second in Wyoming.
One district advantage is its small student/teacher ratio of 10-to-1, said Kerby.
“So kids … have a lot of extra help, and we just have some outstanding teachers that work with kids – not only in academics, but they care about them and try to make sure they don’t get lost,” he said.
Kerby said the district also has “really nice” school-building facilities and supportive parents throughout the tiny community.
“We’re a small community, and that’s what you do on Friday night: you go to the (high school) football game or volleyball game,” said Kerby. “There’s really good support for students.”