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ACT

Lies, damned lies, statistics; Here are Cowboy State facts

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Sniffin coach design
Bill Sniffin points to the back of his motorhome which shows the Cowboy logo and words from a song by Chris LeDoux.
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By Bill Sniffin

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

– Mark Twain

You could always find lots of cars and trucks around my home.  I am an admitted car nut and just love vehicles of all kinds.

Perhaps out here in Wyoming it is a throwback to a time when your wealth was tied to the number of horses you had. And if wealth were connected to the number of cars you own, my friend Joe Kenney would be a multi-millionaire.  I think he has ten vehicles, two motorcycles, a motorcycle, and an airplane at last count.

I am down to a Ford Excursion, an all-wheel drive Lincoln sedan, and a 17-year old hail-damaged Lexus convertible.  Oh yeah, we also have a 14-year old motorhome that we used to call Follow My Nose. Now it is emblazoned with the Wyoming Cowboy logo and the name of the song “Life is a Highway” by Chris LeDoux. The late Wyoming cowboy-singer was one of many folks who recorded that song. I like his version the best.

So here is my question for all of you: Wyoming has 579,315 people.  How many cars and trucks are there?  Do you think there are more vehicles than people here in Wyoming?

Our local Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones sent me the current most updated 2018 statistics from the United States Census Bureau, which measures all these things. It has some surprising info about my own county and even more surprising data about the state of Wyoming.

If you guessed that, yes, Wyoming has more vehicles than it has people, you were right.  The 579,315 people in the state own 603,717 licensed cars and trucks.

 People (especially wives) repeat the old saw: “The only difference between men and boys is the cost and size of all their toys.”

Toys? Yeah, here in Wyoming, we have toys. And most of them are registered with the state government.  Besides cars and trucks, we have 294,164 “other” vehicles.

More importantly, this total includes trailers, lots of trailers. Including RVs, this amounts to an astonishing total of 207,413 trailers. It also includes 26,144 motorcycles.

Snowmobiles, boats, airplanes, and ATVs are not listed in this total but obviously would add big numbers if they were.

Wyoming people drive more miles per year than folks in any other state. That average is 16,800 miles for every man, woman, and child. Amazing.  No wonder my tires keep wearing out.

These miles are traveled on our 30,430 miles of highways and roads in our state. Of this total, 6,075 are federal.  Did you know that the longest highway in America is US 26?  Closely followed by Interstate 80, which I believe is the longest interstate highway in the country, stretching from New York City to San Francisco, closely following the route of famous US 30 Lincoln Highway.  It was Honest Abe who first proposed this national road along about 1863, when he was pretty much preoccupied with the Civil War and getting the transcontinental railroad built.

In Wyoming, we like to brag about our low taxes but the state collected $686,766,223 in sales and use taxes.  That is a pile of money.

Property taxes collected across the state amounted to over a billion dollars with a total of $1,344,432,107.  

My columns are usually limited to 750 words so I have to cherry-pick items here.  It would fill a whole bunch of pages to write about all of this detail.

In my business career, after starting out as a reporter and ad salesmen, I developed a love for data and numbers when I became an owner and publisher.  This surprised everyone. To me, numbers are not just numbers – they tell big stories.  I used to love the early IBM advertisements for computer systems where they pictured businesspersons pondering spreadsheets. The caption read: “Not just data – but reality.” Just love that concept.

School statistics could take up an entire column.  There are 48 school districts in Wyoming with one-sixth of them in my Fremont County.

There are 355 schools located from one end of the state to the other. There are 7,248 teachers and 736 administrators. According to these reports, there are 6,884 other staff to help keep things going.

Total enrollment is 93,647 students.  We have a graduation rate of 81.7 percent. The composite ACT score for juniors in high school was 19.5 in 2018.

Total general fund expenses for education were $1,493,600,712 for a per-student average of $17,694. This is one of the highest rates in the country.  In my county of Fremont (with its eight districts), the average per student cost was an amazing $22,299.

I will wrap this up by sharing that the U. S. Government owns 46,313 square miles out the state’s total of 97,093 square miles. The Bureau of Land Management controls 27,162 square miles of this total.

It is a big place with big numbers.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Wyoming’s highest cost schools score lowest on ACT

in News/Education
Wyoming ACT test scores
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By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Poverty, a widely diverse student population and cultural differences all contribute to the low college preparedness exam scores posted by Fremont County schools, according to educators.

But at the same time, the national ACT exam is just one of a number of indicators of student performance, said the superintendents of Riverton and Arapahoe school districts.

“We don’t spend a lot of time emphasizing the ACT tests,” said Roy Brown, the interim superintendent of Arapahoe schools. “We think it is a predictor of learning, but we really want to make sure our students are receiving, advancing and achieving based on where we received them. We’re really interested in growth.”

State figures show that Fremont County’s eight school districts had the lowest composite ACT scores statewide in 2018 and the highest average per-student public education operating costs. The information came from a statistical report compiled by state economist Wenlin Liu.

Fremont County’s composite ACT score was 17.9, compared with Wyoming’s score of 19.5, and Teton County’s 21.7 score. The highest score possible is 36. ACT is a college admission exam that tests knowledge about English, math, reading and science.

The statistical report also pointed out that in Fremont County, the cost of public education for 2018 averaged about $22,300 per student, while the state average was about $17,700 per student.

Terry Snyder, the superintendent for Riverton schools, said the high per-student costs could be explained by the fact Fremont County is the state’s largest (geographically) and contains eight school districts — six of them in communities with low populations.

Snyder and Brown agreed that their districts will continue to work with students and teachers to improve achievement. But both regard the ACT exam as just one indicator of student performance and will not base improvement goals on it alone.

“It (the ACT) is a college prep test and it relies on a broad case of knowledge and information,” Snyder said. “We don’t use that as an excuse, but it is a reality with a test like ACT.” He puts more weight with the National Assessment for Educational Progress and the state’s WY-TOPP student performance test.

The poverty level of a district can affect ACT results, according to Snyder. Research done by the ACT system concluded that students from wealthier parents scored higher than poor students.

The poverty level in Fremont County in 2017 was 13.7 percent, higher than the state average of 11.3 percent and the national average of 12.3 percent, according to the American Community Survey. Snyder said he’s not surprised by the correlation between poverty level and test scores.

“But once we get the scores, we go to work to improve that,” he said. “Whether the students come from wealth or poverty, we have to work with every kid to maximize their learning.”

ACT research also shows that hispanic, black and Native American students score lower on average than white and Asian students who take the ACT. Fremont County has a significant minority population, Snyder said. The county is home to the Wind River Indian Reservation, where members of the Northern Arapaho and the Eastern Shoshone nations live.

Arapaho High Charter School has a high percentage of non-white students, Brown said.

The charter high school has 23 students in grades 9 through 12 this year. The district gets instructional help from the Wyoming Department of Education, Brown said.

“We are planning to work with them (the department) more intensively” in the next training session.

Michelle Panos, communications director for the state education agency, said the department offers several supports for schools that don’t meet expectations in various areas, whether it’s in Fremont County or any school district in Wyoming.

Resources include providing teacher training workshops and lessons in how to work with materials that are culturally and contextually sensitive, she said in an emailed response to questions.

Panos said an ACT score is not the only indicator school districts use to measure student success. WY-TOPP scores and NAEP scores are examples of others, she said.

“These are only snapshots of student performance,” she said. “Along with these, district level assessments use multiple measures that look at student performance over multiple periods in time.”

Making the curriculum relevant to Native American students is an important goal, according to Brown. Staff members at Arapaho High Charter School teach the Northern Arapaho language and two other districts in the county teach the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone languages.  

“We really believe it helps students become better rounded and primed for opportunities to learn,” Brown said.

“It may not directly affect ACT scores now, but once students are in an environment where they feel safe,” the academic instruction will be better received, he said.

Teaching the language has helped get students more engaged with school.  

“We have students who haven’t always enjoyed coming, but once they are in these activities, they feel validated and many hate to miss school now,” Brown said.

Alfred Redman is a Northern Arapaho Tribal Education director and also is affiliated with Sky People Higher Education, an organization that helps provide scholarships to Native American students who want to attend college.

Redman, 82, taught social studies for 23 years at the Wyoming Indian High in Ethete. He wants to make education relevant to students and continues to stay involved. Redman wants to change the curriculum to better fit the needs of Native American students.He wants to get parents and educators in Fremont County schools to meet so they can identify areas to improve.

“I’m having a hell of a time getting people to come together,” he said. “I’m trying to find out from the people what they think.”

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