Accountability is crucial to driving continuous improvement within our schools. It sets forth clear standards for achievement among our educators and administrators. Wyoming students benefit when they are assured that no matter where they attend school, the quality and standard of education they are receiving is equally rigorous across the state.
As late as 2016, Wyoming had two very different accountability systems: the federally mandated No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the state mandated Wyoming Accountability in Education Act (WAEA). The federal system described virtually all schools as “failing” because it mandated 100% student proficiency, while the state system categorized schools into four ratings: not meeting, partially meeting, meeting, or exceeding expectations. The U.S. Department of Education recently replaced NCLB with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), updating federal accountability requirements for schools and educators across the U.S.
The Wyoming State Board of Education (SBE) is responsible for informing policy for the state accountability system. The state superintendent within the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) is responsible for setting policy for the federal accountability system. To eliminate confusion, the SBE and WDE are actively trying to align the two mechanisms for identifying needed school improvements.
This summer, the SBE convened a Professional Judgement Panel (PJP) to review the WDE’s recommendations for specific federal accountability goals. They concurred with 22 ESSA improvement targets and voted to use them within the state’s WAEA system. Still, there are a few differences, and some are quite compelling:
- WAEA currently requires science assessment results to be used in the computation of the school ratings, while the Wyoming ESSA state plan only uses language arts and mathematics in the school identification process.
- WAEA retains four levels of school ratings (exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, partially meeting expectations, and not meeting expectations), while ESSA has three levels of identification, all of which describe what level of support and assistance a school needs to improve (comprehensive, targeted, or assisted targeted support).
- WAEA incentivizes high schools to keep students through graduation even though it may take five, six, or even seven years to complete the diploma requirements, while ESSA requires only the four-year, on-time cohort graduation rate.
- WAEA has a nearly complete alternative high school accountability system that is responsive to the special circumstances of schools dealing with a challenging population, while ESSA has a singular requirement that all Title 1 high schools get the same treatment.
The PJP members also discussed the provision for a “safe harbor”, where no additional requirements would occur the first year a school receives a low rating (partially or not meeting expectations).
It should be noted that because the state of Wyoming is transitioning from PAWS to WY-TOPP, most improvement targets will be reset for both ESSA and WAEA in 2018.
The WDE is developing guidance for schools to better explain how these new accountability systems will impact their improvement plans. They are also developing a school report card that merges WAEA and ESSA accountability results. Schools will use these rating systems to target improvement efforts for specific subjects, grades, and student populations.