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Decision on computer science standards expected by Feb. 14

in News/Education
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.”

Future Proofing our Kids for Tomorrow

in Technology/Column
Microsoft
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By Dennis Ellis, special to Cowboy State Daily

It’s been amazing to watch Wyoming become a national policy leader on growing computer science opportunities for our kids, enriching their education and giving them skills to compete in the future.

It’s no surprise that computing jobs are the number one source of new wages in the U.S. and that nine out of 10 parents want their children to learn computer science. Many even suggest that 70 percent of students will work in jobs that don’t even exist today. Technological change, economic turbulence and societal transformation are disrupting old career certainties and it is increasingly difficult to judge which degrees and qualifications will be a passport to a well-paid and fulfilling job in the decades ahead.

You can bet your paycheck I want my kids to have at least a basic fluency in computer science so they can be more impactful in whatever career they choose, as nearly every job becomes a technology-driven job, and future proof their careers. Our kids need to move beyond just consuming technology, and begin to learn how to create technology.

For Wyoming to continue to make leaps in giving our children a bright future in the face of such uncertainty, it takes a strong commitment from our policymakers, education system, business community and parents. Here are some great examples of this commitment I see around the state:

Governor Gordon signs a 2019 Computer Science Week Proclamation with Array School students on hand
  • Governor Mark Gordon recently signed a proclamation declaring Computer Science Week, recognizing the importance of providing our students new opportunities.
  • In 2018 Governor Matt Mead signed seminal legislation requiring each school to include computer science and computational thinking opportunities for all Wyoming students.
  • The State of Wyoming is developing K–12 computer science standards, blazing trails on how to provide professional development and micro-credentialing for in-service teachers to bridge the gap in teaching capacity.
  • Last year 60 percent of Wyoming high schools taught at least one computer science course. That’s the third highest rated state west of the Mississippi River and eighth best in the country!
State by State offerings for Computer Science in High School

Addressing the STEM Gap

Because I have two daughters, I’m highly concerned about the gap in STEM and computer science participation for females. We all should be.

Alarmingly, in 1995 just 37 percent of computer scientists were women. Today, only 24 percent of women. If we do nothing, in ten years the number of women in computing will decrease to just 22 percent. We can and must do better. 

No alt text provided for this image

Fortunately, for the sixth year in a row, the percentage of female AP Computer Science exam takers rose, steadily chipping away at the gender gap in high school computer science. Closing the participation gaps in computer science will take years, but there are clear signs that states are on the right path. Wyoming has already launched five Girls Who Code chapters to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmer looks like and does.

Microsoft recently partnered with the Array Foundation, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Girls Who Code to launch Cheyenne’s first chapter. The chapter will enable girls to learn computer science from a female role model in the tech industry. Research shows that 31 percent of middle school girls and 40 percent of high school girls believe that jobs requiring coding are not for them. Increasing the amount of female role models can play an important role to shift these perceptions.

Girls Who Code Chapter launch with Array Foundation

Anyone interested in bringing Girls Who Code to their town, or get engaged in other areas of building a strong ecosystem of computer science in your community, contact me or the Array School of Technology and Design and we can help show you a simple playbook to help shape a bright future for Wyoming!

‘Girls Who Code’ chapter to open in Cheyenne

in News/Technology
2560

By Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne company teaching the art of computer programming is launching a Cheyenne chapter of a national organization aimed at encouraging girls to further their computer skills.

The Array School last week hosted an “Hour of Code” to announce the creation of a Cheyenne chapter of “Girls Who Code.”

“It’s for girls who are interested in furthering their computer science knowledge and skills,” said Amy Surdam, of Array School. “So we’re excited to offer that to the Cheyenne community.”

The group’s first function will be a 15-week program that will begin in January with space for 15 students.Surdam said the Array School already has applications from 35 girls seeking spots in the program.

“And there’s still a week open for applications to come in,” she said. “So now we’re going to have the difficult challenge of how do we select the 15 (students) or how do we double the class size.”

The group is working now with 15 computers donated by Cheyenne residents, which were on display during the “Hour of Code,” during which both boys and girls were invited to try their hand at computer programming.

Microsoft is also lending a hand in creation of a “Girls Who Code” chapter in Cheyenne, said Ben McCain, a program manager for the company.

“We’re trying deeply to integrate ourselves with these types of efforts,” he said. “Not just in Cheyenne, but all across the country and throughout the world. Getting kids involved in programming and computer science as early as possible is really pivotal because in today’s economy, every industry revolves around this. There really is no industry that is not affected in some way by computer science and coding.”

Board of Education votes to move forward with computer science standards

in News/Education
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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 News/Technology/Education
2387

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 News/Technology/Education
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.”

Microsoft contributes to computer science training

in News/Technology/Education
Microsoft contributes to computer science training
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By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Microsoft Corp. will provide more than $95,000 in grant money to the Wyoming Department of Education to provide computer science training for the state’s school districts.

The grant money is part of Microsoft’s TechSpark Initiative to offer computer science program implementation and training through the organization CSforAll — Computer Science for All.

CSforALL strives to make computer science a part of every student’s K-12 education.

The help from Microsoft is especially important now, given that the state Legislature passed a bill in 2018 that districts must offer computer science education to every K-12 student, said Laura Ballard, the Education Department’s supervisor for its student and teacher resource team. The goal must be reached by the 2022-23 school year.

“The timing is perfect,” she said. 

Training will involve several self-assessment and goal-setting activities.

“It will give districts the opportunity to think strategically about how to implement a high quality education in the districts,” Ballard said. 

Dennis Ellis, the manager of Microsoft’s TechSpark program in Wyoming, said in a news release that computer skills will be essential for students seeking jobs in the future.

“Making computer science education an opportunity within reach of every student ensures that Wyoming’s children can be future ready and will make our state attractive to public and private investments that can drive economic growth,” Ellis said.

Computer science education will be the first content area that educators and education officials in Wyoming will implement from the ground up, according to Ballard.

The task can be overwhelming to think about, she said Tuesday.

“When I was talking with some of our partners with Microsoft, they pointed me in the direction of CSforALL training,” she said. “It really is intended to help districts take a systems approach to create a plan to implement computer science.”

This training will help educators create a vision of computer science education and how it fits in their district’s vision for education, Ballard said.

Districts have to apply to attend the training, which will take place one of five locations around the state.

Locations and dates are:

·  Casper:  May 14-15; Oct. 15; and May 20, 2020.

·  Rock Springs: June 4-5; Nov. 14; and June 4, 2020

·  Cheyenne: June 11-12, 2019; Nov. 19, 2019; and June 11, 2020.

·  Worland: Aug. 5-6, 2019; Jan. 7, 2020; and Aug. 6, 2020.

·  Gillette: Sept. 24-25, 2019; Feb. 25, 2020; and Sept. 24, 2020.

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