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Decision on computer science standards expected by Feb. 14

in Education/News
2601

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It’s going to likely be an eventful Valentine’s Day for anyone who’s been following Wyoming’s computer science standards saga. 

That is the deadline for Gov. Mark Gordon to make his decision on whether to approve the standards submitted by the state Board of Education.

Currently, the standards are in the middle of a 75-day review period where Gordon, the Legislative Service Office, the Legislature’s Joint Management Council and the Attorney General’s office will look over the standards, possibly make small amendments or recommendations before they are finally signed into effect. 

If the various offices determine there are too many issues with the standards, the promulgation process must begin again. Either way, Feb. 14 is the final day in the review period. 

Laurie Hernandez, Standards and Assessment director for the state Department of Education, noted that Attorney General Bridget Hill recently completed her assessment of the standards, allowing them to move forward in the final step of the promulgation process. 

“There were a couple of minor things noted that I needed to adjust, but that was all from the AG review,” Hernandez said. 

Small adjustments to the language are common, but if a major issue is found in the standards, it could mean sending them back to the early steps of the promulgation process, meaning it would have to go through weeks of more reviews and public comment. 

“Restarting the process would come with some type of change that wouldn’t be considered natural outgrowth,” Hernandez said. “When the LSO and AG offices review the standards, they’re looking at whether or not the letter of the law is being met or if there is anything egregious being covered.”

The last major changes to the standards were made in November, when the State Board of Education reviewed an opinion from Hill about them. She noted to the board that some of the terminology in the standards was confusing and certain words weren’t used consistently.

The board made two amendments, clarifying that “enhanced” benchmarks for computer science education would be available to, but not mandatory for, all students. The other amendment removed performance level descriptors (PLD) from the standards for kindergarten through fifth grade. The PLDs will still be available to teachers in a guidance document, though. 

The standards under review are based on those created by the Computer Science Teachers Association. The standards set by the organization are intended to develop a clear understanding of the principles and practices of computer science.

Gordon’s communications director Michael Pearlman said he expects the governor to review the standards later in the 75-day period, as Gordon is deliberative and wants to ensure he’s considering everything.

“Obviously, we don’t want to take too long, because we’re all cognizant of how long this process has been,” Pearlman said. 

Lachelle Brant, an education policy advisor to Gordon, said she couldn’t speak about what was in the final version of the standards since the LSO is still reviewing them. But she said she hoped to get the standards approved by the governor quickly to give districts enough time for implementation. 

By law, the standards have to be in place by the beginning of the 2022-23 school year. Some districts like Laramie County School District No. 1, Platte County School District No. 2 and Sheridan County School District No. 1 are already working to implement standards, but other schools will need more time to learn them and incorporate them into the curriculum. 

“Some of these districts knew the Legislature passed a law and that these standards would be an expectation down the road, so they’ve worked to be ahead of the game,” Brant said. “I think some larger districts are concerned because these standards were passed and there was no additional funding for training. The Department of Education is working to fill that financial gap by applying for grants, so that’s helping.” 

Hernandez noted that the standards team has created a three-year implementation process plan calling for the Department of Education to provide professional development for educators across the state on the standards. 

The review committee that helped write the standards earlier in the year found ways that educators could cross-reference other curriculum with computer science in an effort to make the integration process easier.

“These courses ranged from language arts and social studies to electives like (physical education) and fine performing arts,” Hernandez said. “The committee knew that with a brand new set of standards, there would be some angst by adding computer science to these educators’ plates. The intent was to provide resources to help implement these as easily as possible.”

Cameras in classroom would increase school accountability

in Column/Education/Ray Peterson
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By R. Ray Peterson, Cowley, WY 

Accountability from our schools has been an ongoing concern for years as the Legislature has struggled to understand how much the state spends for the results received. I remember a bill I sponsored years ago in an attempt to address this issue. 

The measure was nicknamed the “camera bill,” but its actual title was “Improving Teacher Evaluations.” It passed introduction, only to fail in the Senate Education Committee by one vote. Simply put, it was a concept for a pilot program to put cameras in the classroom to use for evaluations and provide security for both teachers and students. 

I thought it was an ideal time to implement the concept as we were building schools at a fast pace. The pilot program was to involve four schools, each of a different size, around our state. The program would continue for one year and a report on its effectiveness would be given to the Legislature.

The nexus of this concept came when I asked a few retired teachers how they were evaluated over the many years they had taught. Their answers were varied and inconsistent, which led me to believe that teacher evaluations across our state were somewhat of a “hit and miss” process. Stories of teachers suing school districts for wrongful termination or superintendents being reluctant to fire teachers with guaranteed contract status because of the personal hits they took led me to take a serious look at the evaluation process or how we might improve the process to address these concerns.

Think of it! The student and teacher would never know if the principal or instructional facilitator were watching! This alone would have a positive affect for both the student and the instructor. 

I only wish that every citizen from our state could have seen my presentation of this bill to the Senate Education Committee. Many certainly would have been entertained while listening to the point/counter-point between the Wyoming Education Association representatives and myself. It was classic. Perhaps this is where I made myself an enemy to these folks. 

Anyway, this idea was meant to be an additional tool an administrator could use to evaluate teachers. No disruption of the classroom with personal visits, no tip-off to give the teacher a chance to prepare. And the best part? Now a recording could be reviewed by the teacher, principal, the instructional facilitator and one of the parents of a student. 

Wait, a parent? How dare we suggest such a thing! Hold on, let me explain. The parent was to attend the viewing and submit a simplified evaluation form. Did the teacher seem prepared? Did he or she seem to maintain class discipline? Simple and basic questions. Then the parent representative would be asked to leave. Then the three people remaining in the room would get down to business while making recommendations and assignments for improvements as needed. The instructional facilitator would be assigned to work with the teacher in certain areas and all three would be required to sign off on the evaluation report. A work plan for improvement would be made, assignments given and a follow-up visit would be set to re-evaluate for these areas to be worked on. Think of the effect this would have on wrongful termination lawsuits. Or more importantly, how the schools could address the strengths or shortcomings of a teacher or administrator!

So why the parent involvement? In order for this to work, we must first, insure that the evaluations are happening. The parents group representative attends the monthly school board meeting to report on how many evaluations parents have participated in that month. Now everyone is on the hook! Not just our teachers and students but everyone from parents to administrators. No personnel problems or employee confidences are threatened. Just a quick report on whether the evaluations are happening to the school board and superintendent. 

Make no mistake, evaluations are the hardest part of school administration, but also the most critical. New school buildings and curriculum have less to do with a student’s education than a teacher’s desire and ability to teach. I would encourage parents around our state to ask their school administrators how teacher evaluations are performed in their own school districts. How often they are performed? How is the follow up performed? Who is involved in carrying out the improvement plans for an under-performing teacher? What you may find out could surprise you. It is as varied as you could imagine, from no evaluations to some. 

When I asked for myself, I was surprised to find out that the teacher was asked by the principal if the principal could attend a class sometime in the future. The time was set by the teacher and I’m sure the preparation began. I’m sure everything went to plan and the evaluation was deemed a success. I thought to myself, ‘How many things were wrong with this type of an evaluation?’ From reporting the evaluation to the effectiveness of the actual evaluation. Where was the hook or accountability for any of the players that we deem critical to our child’s education?

Second, we would reduce the wasteful wrongful termination lawsuits. Not only would we have documentation of the evaluations signed by all parties, but also from the instructional facilitator. This person is the best qualified teacher in each district, assigned the task of assisting other teachers become better instructors. The principal and the instructional facilitator would both work at improving the quality of teaching in our schools. This would also reduce concerns of personal attacks, inconsistent evaluations, new administration, personality conflicts and surprise terminations. Proper and consistent evaluations should remove all of these concerns.

Third, this proposal would involve and make more players accountable than just our teachers. Parents need to be more involved. How could a principal use the recording of a parent’s child struggling in one of their classes? How could parents reporting to the school board each month help improve the performance of our principals in conducting regular evaluations? If I were serving on a school board and the parents reported to us that they had been invited to only one evaluation that semester in a school with more than 20 teachers, I would think that we have a problem in evaluating our teachers consistently and properly.

Finally, this program would focus the efforts of not only our teachers and students but also our instructional facilitators, principals, parents, school board members and superintendents on educational excellence. If we really believe that education is the most important thing we do in this state, then I would ask the question, what is wrong with this concept? These are public institutions of learning and we have the technology to improve our efforts, so why not implement a pilot program to see what the effects might be? 

As a closing thought, having cameras in most parts of a school would only add to the security of our students and faculty. Bullying would be handled properly with video evidence being used to show all parties involved. 

Throwing additional money at a problem does not always solve the problem. Sometimes more effort is required. Maybe some courageous legislator can blow the dust off of my old bill and introduce it again. But beware of those that want nothing to do with accountability in our schools because they will come out in droves in opposition to this effort. More money is what they want.

I remain convinced that if implemented, this one improvement could do more for the quality of education in this state than anything else we could possibly do. More so than additional money or higher salaries, new buildings, more activities or even improved curriculum. This one effort to improve evaluations in our schools would hit the bullseye for boosting the quality of education in Wyoming. It would certainly eliminate the wrongful termination lawsuits. It would blow a hole through the guaranteed contract status of teachers and would provide the proper incentive to continually improve education efforts in schools. 

I’ve always believed that if evaluations were done correctly, we would have better teachers, happier teachers, accomplished teachers and better test scores for our students. Is it any wonder why our friends at the WEA were opposed to this concept? It did not fit with their desire for higher wages, guaranteed positions with less accountability. Perhaps it’s time for a new organization that puts our students first. W4E. Wyoming For Education. I would hope that such an organization would not fear innovation, technology, accountability, and responsibility.

Now who is serious about educating our children?

Ray Peterson served as a state senator for 13 years, from 2005-2018. He lives in Cowley.

Education is already state’s top expense — why spend more?

in Column/Education
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By R. Ray Peterson, Cowley, WY

I never served on the Senate Education Committee, but participated in many discussions on school funding formulas, education expenses, school construction, curriculum, teacher salaries and administrative costs. 

I did have the opportunity to serve six years on the Appropriations Committee and on the latest Recalibration Committee as well as the School Facilities Select Committee and so, like most legislators voting on these matters, I couldn’t help but learn about the issues facing education.

Recently the Joint Education Committee met and narrowly passed a proposal for a $19 million increase to the education funding model. This bill will go to the full Legislature in February for a vote. 

I question the need for yet another increase to education funding, considering the fact spending on our public schools is already the largest of all the state’s budget expenditures. In addition, an annual automatic adjustment to education to account for inflation already adds $15 million a year to the cost. So Wyoming ranks No. 1 in our region for education spending and No. 5 in the country.

It leaves me shaking my head that the Education Committee is once again recommending even more spending increases. It begs the questions: Where will the money come from? Which budget will we rob from or what tax increase is coming? 

The explanation for the proposed increase from committee leaders was that Wyoming’s Supreme Court required education to be the Legislature’s top funding priority. My answer to that is that K-12 education is already the largest segment of our ever-growing state budget. 

Where we spent $1,234 per student in 1979, we are now spending $16,381 in 2019. The Legislature has elected to spend more than the funding model suggests every year since 2001. And yet we need to spend even more? Since 1979 our K-12 education budget has grown nearly 400 percent! 

Also consider that most school district superintendents in Wyoming — we have 48 — make more than our Governor

Folks, no one seems to driving this runaway train and sadly, I don’t see any stop to it. All of this leaves me with the question: How much do we need to spend or how much is enough for our schools to be happy enough to prevent them from suing the Legislature a fourth time. 

Personally, I say bring it. 

What evidence do our schools have that they are not our top priority? Most districts have new buildings, new buses, the highest starting salaries in the region, low class sizes, top-of-the-line benefits packages and the best students in the nation to work with. I for one grow tired of the threat of a law suit. Times have changed over the last 40 years and frankly, they do not have a leg to stand on. 

Finally, I would add this: If our Supreme Court rules again that our school districts need more money, then I would challenge our justices to balance our state budget. Are roads important? Water, sewer and other infrastructure that make our communities nice to live in, are they important? How about health care? Emergency services, law enforcement? 

I could go on and on with other budgets that will continue to be robbed in the name of education. Look at the numbers. Look at what we spend. Look at what we have spent with the funding increases over the last 40 years and then tell me with a straight face that more is needed to maintain the quality of our education. And please don’t tell me that I don’t believe in education as much as you do. Or that I just don’t understand how education works. I see what goes in and what comes out, and I’m left thinking that we can do much better.

Wyoming principal recognized as top educator in the nation

in Education/News
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By Robert Geha, Cowboy State Daily

The principal of a Cheyenne junior high school on Monday was recognized as one of the top educators in the nation with a Milken Educator Award.

Brian Cox, principal of Johnson Junior High School, is Wyoming’s only teacher to win one of the Milken awards and is one of only 40 teachers nationally to win the prize and accompanying $25,000 cash payment.

Cox, who oversees a staff of about 100 at Johnson, was recognized for his commitment to putting students first, urging them to focus on leadership skills in addition to academics. He is known for challenging his students to realize that their goals for the future often depend on academic success.

Cox was given the award during an assembly at Johnson on Monday. Although he was told what the assembly about, he was not informed he was to be the recipient of the prize until it was given to him.

State and Cheyenne educators joined legislators and representatives of Wyoming’s congressional delegation as the presentation was made by Greg Gallagher, a senior program director for the Milken Educator Award, and Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.

“A savvy and committed principal like Brian Cox can have a profound effect on so many lives,” Gallagher said. “Through personal commitment to individual students, dedicated community outreach and staff development initiatives, Principal Cox is creating a better future for all.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to visit Johnson Junior High and watch Brian interact with teachers and students in such an engaging and positive manner,” Balow said. “Brian’s enthusiasm is infectious, and he’s a champion for students. 

Northwest tries new tactics to attract students

in Education/News
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Northwest College in Powell, facing declining enrollment for the last several years, has launched several efforts to build up the number of students attending the two-year school.

As of the fall of 2018, the number of full-time students attending the college in Powell stood at 807, compared to 948 in the fall of 2017.

College President Stefani Hicswa attributed the decline to the improving economy.

“Community college enrollment is directly tied to unemployment,” Hicswa said. “As people go to work, they don’t go to college. This is the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, so they’re not choosing to attend college at this point.”

The college also faces competition from for-profit schools that can spend more on marketing, Hicswa said.

Northwest is changing some of its marketing approaches, such as relying more on social media, to reach students with its message, said Carey Miller, the college’s new director of Communication and Marketing.

Williams said efforts are focusing to spread the word about the college’s location, affordability, the quality of its programs and the college experience it offers.

“Those four things, Northwest College excels at,” she said.

In addition, the college is sending recruiters to meet with potential students, said Dee Havig, Northwest’s interim vice president for Student Services.

“Marketing tells us that social media is what students are wanting, but we’re also hearing they like that face-to-face and making that connection to someone with the school,” he said.

Hicswa said the college is also looking at new degree programs, partnerships with regional colleges and universities and the construction of a new student center to attract more students.

Ray Peterson is back, hoping lawmakers will heed his calls for ed funding cuts

in Education/News
Education funding
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

A former state senator who was ousted from the Legislature after sponsoring a bill that threatened to cut education funding is doubling down, saying more money needs to be cut.

Ray Peterson of Cowley said he was alarmed when he learned the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee recommended a $19 million education “external cost adjustment” — a boost to allow school funding to keep up with inflation. Weeks later, Gov. Mark Gordon also recommended an education adjustment of $19 million in 2020, and $19 million for the following year. 

“My concern is it’s not sustainable with the downturn in coal,” Peterson, a Republican who lost re-election in 2018, said in an interview. “That’s where a lot of our education funding comes from: Coal, oil and gas.”

So now he’s speaking out. No longer in the Legislature, he said he wants to start a discussion, hoping lawmakers will be empowered by his talking points. 

“I hope my defeat is not used as a poster child.” he said. “These decisions are hard.”

Nevertheless, the Wyoming Education Association says Peterson’s views are outside the norm and may not pass constitutional muster. The WEA points to a 2017 Public Opinion Strategies poll it commissioned that found 78 percent of registered voters agreed with the statement: “Even with the tough budget situation, funding for K-12 grade schools in the state should NOT be cut.”

And while Peterson questioned education salaries and spending compared to Wyoming’s neighbors, WEA President Kathy Vetter noted in Education Week’s report card, Quality Counts 2019, that the state ranked sixth nationally in education – higher than all five of its neighbors. 

2018 session bill

Education became a central topic in Peterson’s 2018 re-election primary after he sponsored a bill  designed to prevent districts from squirreling away large cash reserves for construction, he said. After several amendments, the cut to Wyoming schools would have been around $40 million, Peterson said, but it was shelved as other school funding measures were working through the legislative process. 

Components of Peterson’s bill were folded into another piece of legislation that cut education by around $29 million — and that bill passed. 

Less than six months later, Peterson – who had served since 2004 and chaired the Senate Revenue Committee — lost re-election to R.J. Kost, a Republican who retired from a long education career. 

This round

This time around, Peterson is offering a graph that he said charts 40 years of education funding in Wyoming — and an overall spending increase of 400 percent.  

If inflation was kept closer to the Consumer Price Index, he said the increase should only be around 120 percent.

Peterson acknowledged some of that increase occurred when legislators decades ago decided to direct more cash toward schools. Money also was distributed from the state to equalize funding among school districts after a series of Wyoming Supreme Court decisions that funding must be uniform. 

He also said some of the education funding increases were a deliberate decision by the Legislature to offer attractive salaries to lure and keep teachers in the state.  

But now Peterson thinks enough is enough. He thinks cuts could be constitutional if they were applied in a manner in which no school district disproportionately suffered. 

“My concern is it’s a runaway freight train and nobody’s tapping the brakes,” he said. 

The constant increases in school funding come at the expense of other state programs, he said, since the state revenue pie is shrinking. 

Possible constitutional issues

However, Vetter, the WEA president, said in an email that in one of the Supreme Court’s education funding decisions, it ruled the Legislature must fund education “adequately and equitably” before anything else. 

The proposal for a $38 million spending increase in the first year of the coming biennium just barely meets the minimum recommendation for education funding set by the Joint Education Committee, Vetter said. 

“The Legislature has established a funding model that meets the constitutional guarantee,” she said. “Gov. Gordon’s budget proposal honors Wyoming students’ constitutionally protected, fundamental right to an equitable, high-quality education.”

Vetter doesn’t deny these are challenging times for the state’s economy, and that other parts of the state budget are suffering. But the Legislature has constitutional obligations.

“Sacrificing on education means sacrificing Wyoming’s future,” she said. 

Board of Education votes to move forward with computer science standards

in Education/News
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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. 

AG’s opinion on computer standards is in

in Education/News/Technology
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Board of Education has received an attorney general’s opinion on the constitutionality of proposed computer science standards for the state’s schools, a board member said Friday.

Sue Belish, testifying before the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee, said the board will review the opinion from Attorney General Bridget Hill during its meeting next week.

Hill’s office was asked in June to answer several questions about the constitutionality of the standards developed in response to legislation approved almost two years ago.

Belish said without Hill’s opinion, the Board of Education was unable to proceed with the standards. She declined to specify what constitutional questions Hill’s opinion addressed.

Belish’s appearance came in response to a request from Education Committee members in June for an update on the standards.

The standards have been rewritten numerous times, since concern has been expressed from elementary school teachers and the attorney general’s office about various issues. 

The issues included worries about teachers learning computer science requirements in a time crunch.

Attorneys also expressed concern about whether the standards would meet constitutional requirements for public instruction to be uniform, since some schools in the state would only be able to teach to minimum requirements and others would be able to offer expanded programs.

Belish noted it takes a number of months for the content review committee (made up of individuals including teachers and computer scientists) to go through the process of evaluating the standards.

Due to the mixed testimonies the Board of Education received about the then-current standards during its meeting in March, its members asked the content committee to rewrite them, Belish said. 

The committee came back in April with revised standards and benchmarks. 

Belish felt public comment was more positive during that meeting, but since the committee only had one month to rewrite the standards, members only focused on the requirements for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“At that meeting, the board formally approved starting the rule promulgation process,” she said. “It went to the governor, the secretary of state and out for 45-day comment.”

The Department of Education has collected those comments, so the board will consider them at its meeting on Friday, Nov. 22. 

Belish said that during its last three meetings, the board has had computer science standards on its agenda, but without an opinion from the attorney general, there was nothing that could be done. 

However, she told the committee that the board received Hill’s opinion on Tuesday, which will be considered at its meeting next week. 

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, questioned what the constitutional issues were, but Belish invoked attorney-client privilege to not answer. 

She said the board would talk about the attorney general’s opinion next week and be transparent about its consideration. 

Board of Education Chairman Walt Wilcox told the committee that the board plans to implement the standards by 2023, about a year after the originally slated date.

Representatives from the state Department of Education, meanwhile, said the state’s students have seen increased access to computer science education without the standards.

“I want to point out that this data shows since from 2016-17 school year, there really has been increased student access to computer science,” said Kari Eakins, the department’s chief policy officer. “A lot of districts are making substantial progress toward the implementation. We currently have 907 secondary students enrolled in a computer science course, but only 196 of them are female.” 

She added in her presentation that secondary school teachers will have to obtain certification to teach computer science, but elementary school teachers will not.

Members of the public testifying during the hearing, such as state Rep. Sara Burlingame, thanked the Education Committee for working to get the standards in place.

However, several also noted that the standards should be in place as soon as possible so young students can begin learning computer skills.

“If we lose those critical years, we’re the ones who pay,” Burlingame said. “Our students pay, but our economy, our workforce that doesn’t have those skills, we’re the poorer for it. I hope there’s a level of excitement that the state of Wyoming decided to invest in this. We’ll work out these bumps together. This is a neat thing we’re doing here.” 

Computer science education still not in many Wyoming classrooms — nearly 18 months after bill signed

in Education/News/Technology
computer science standards
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

Learning computer code, using it to create programs and understanding how information is broken down and delivered by networks are just some of the dozens of computer science lessons that could be taught in Wyoming public schools. 

However, the speed of creating statewide computer science and computational thinking standards isn’t exactly gigahertz per second. 

Nearly 18 months have passed since then-Gov. Matt Mead signed a bill creating the standards. Since then, they have been written and rewritten. But for the past five months, the Wyoming State Board of Education has been in a holding pattern, waiting for Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to opine about whether they could pass a constitutional challenge.

There’s no word yet from Hill, who didn’t return a message about why a formal opinion from her office is taking so long, or what that opinion will be. 

On Friday, Wyoming education officials are to testify before the Joint Education Committee, meeting in Cheyenne, about their progress. The committee sponsored the 2018 bill that created the standards

“We’d like to know what the delay is,” said Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, a committee chairman. “We’d like to know what was in the (request) to the attorney general and what the attorney general’s decision is because it could affect all standards in Wyoming.”

After the bill was signed, a committee of computer scientists, teachers and others looked at computer science education standards in other states – such as Oklahoma – and at recommendations by professional associations. They used those to create Wyoming’s proposed standards. 

In January, the state school board sent the standards out for public comment. Elementary school teachers had concerns about learning the various new requirements when they have to teach other subjects as well. The committee returned to the drawing board between March and April.

The committee released another draft of the standards – some would be mandatory, some would support the mandatory standards but would not be mandatory, and some would be “enhanced,” which would also be optional.

Two Wyoming Attorney General office lawyers who advise the board were concerned that they were unconstitutional, since some school districts would be able to offer all the standards and others would only be able to offer the mandatory ones. The Wyoming Constitution requires public instruction to be “uniform.”

In June, the state board wrote a letter to Hill, asking her to study the issue and write a formal opinion.  

“We believe that will help us — not just with computer science but with other requirements,” said Sue Belish, state board vice chair.

Lawmakers and education officials need Hill’s guidance because creating mandatory and supplementary standards could affect education in other subjects besides computer science. 

Another likely delay

But even if Hill could clear up the board’s questions in short order, it may still take a while for computer science education to arrive in some Wyoming classrooms, said Astrid Northrup, an engineering professor at Northwest College in Powell.

Northrup, who is married to Rep. Northrup, was involved with efforts at the University of Wyoming to look at computer science teaching standards even before the effort was under way with the state board. 

Some school districts, especially those already teaching computer science, will be ready to adapt to the standards. Others will have to catch up, she said. The Wyoming Professional Standards Teaching Board has computer science teaching criteria. It may be unrealistic, however, for elementary school teachers, she said. 

“I think we have to lock that down,” she said. “I think that piece needs to be locked down in a realistic manner.”

Charter schools achieve big scores with small classes

in Education/News
Charter School
2290

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A focused curriculum, targeted tutoring and behavioral adjustments all contribute to the above-average statewide education testing scores posted by two Wyoming charter schools, according to their officials.

Of the four charter schools listed in the Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress (TOPP), two scored far above the state proficiency rate in all categories for the 2018-2019 school year.

The TOPP test is a state-mandated measure of proficiency for public school grades three through 10 in the areas of math, English and science.

Snowy Range Academy, of Laramie, and PODER Academy, of Cheyenne, topped the charts with some of the highest scores and participation rates in the state.

“(TOPP testing) is really like the Super Bowl for us at the end of the year,” PODER Chief Operations Officer Nick Avila said.  “It’s a team effort, and it reflects on the school.”

While some of his educators disagree with tests as a measure of student learning, Avila said everyone at PODER recognizes the importance of TOPP testing and works toward helping their students succeed.

“It’s not really how smart you are, but how well you can take tests,” Avila explained. “We tackle the methodology of good test taking head on.”

It all begins with attitude.

“There’s a few things we do to achieve success with our students: No. 1 is we focus on behavior from the start,” Avila said. “We try to get the kids to engage, to listen, to increase attention span.”

Getting kids to sit still and study may be the obvious approach to improving classroom learning, but PODER doesn’t stop at the classroom.

“The other main component is the parents,” Avila said. “Typically when you have a struggling student, it’s usually something coming from the home.”

As problems are identified with each student, parents are called in to help discover the best solutions. This can mean a parent has to change their work-week plans or even take time off, which ruffles some feathers, but Avila said they are reminded that attending PODER is a choice.

“Our school is not going to work for every student — that’s just a reality,” he said. “But having options out there is really important.”

After aggregating all the state’s TOPP scores, the state’s average proficiency levels are between 40 percent to 60 percent, with about 7,000 students tested.

PODER’s average TOPP score was 77 percent and its lowest was 67 percent for fourth grade English, well above the state’s 49 percent in the same category. PODER’s highest score was 92 percent for fifth grade math, compared to the state’s 55 percent.  

PODER was founded in 2012 and originally offered course instruction for kindergarten through ninth grade. In 2016, the academy responded to parent requests for additional schooling by adding a secondary academy, which serves students through 12th grade. Approximately 300 students attend the school with a near equal split between the elementary and secondary courses.

About 40 miles east on Interstate 80, the Snowy Range Academy, founded in 2001, has about 235 students enrolled and instructs grades kindergarten through eighth. 

Snowy Range Principal John Cowper said the school’s focus on teaching without the social events he said are present in many public curriculums helped Snowy Range top the TOPP tests.

“We do not spend a lot of time with activities in our school that are not academically oriented,” Cowper explained. “Halloween parties, Valentine’s parties, Christmas parties — they don’t exist. We believe in all that, and we celebrate it outside of school. But, school is not the time to take away from instruction in order to do that.”

Awarded a Blue Ribbon for High Performance by the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, Snowy Range has been recognized for its output of high achievers and celebrates that success, Cowper said, but now, the school is changing its focus.

“This last year we were shooting for growth in our students,” he said. “We did see slight growth, but not what we were shooting for, so we will try harder next year.”

Snowy Range defines growth as the difference between individual students’ test scores year to year.

“From the educator end, we have to really make sure we are identifying those students who are low performers and triangulating their performances,” Cowper said. “Then, we create individual plans for those students.”

Plans can include learning interventions during the school day, after-school tutoring and schooling during winter and summer breaks.

When it comes time for TOPP testing, Cowper said he hands out mints to all the students and gives the school a big pep talk. But at the end of the day, the test is not treated as the be-all, end-all indicator of student success. 

“We recognize these test scores are a one-day snapshot in a child’s life,” Cowper said. “It may be their best day or it may not. So, it’s hard to put a lot of emphasis on the test results.”

Snowy Range’s average TOPP score was 83 percent, with its lowest score being 71 percent in fourth grade English. And its highest was 90 percent, which it achieved in third grade math, seventh grade math, eighth grade math and eighth grade English.

Both Snowy Range and Poder reported 100 percent participation in the TOPP testing, higher than many public schools in their areas with larger student populations.

“Unless we have an exemption from the state, we must find a time to test that child,” Cowper said. “We don’t stop until we have every child on the list tested.”

With fewer students than other public schools in their communities, the charter schools also had smaller test pools. Snowy Range’s smallest test pool was six to nine students for seventh grade English. It’s largest pool was 20 to 29 students for many of its elementary level categories. 

PODER’s smallest pool was also six to nine for all categories tested on the tenth grade level, and its largest was 30 to 39 for the third grade categories.

Looking forward, Avila said PODER’s model is working, but that doesn’t mean it won’t change.

“We set our target high, and we achieved that,” he said. “But every year is different for us. If we start seeing our scores slide over time, we’ll reevaluate our approach to the teaching model.”

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