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Fewer tests, more learning time proposed for Wyoming students

Plan would cut items on some math assessments by 30%, among other decreases. State education chief Degenfelder cites parent and educator concerns as impetus.

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder speaks at Gannett Peak Elementary School in Lander in 2024. State Rep. Sarah Penn and Gannett Principal Leslie Voxland are seated. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

by Katie KlingspornWyoFile

Prompted by widespread concerns that Wyoming’s K-12 assessments are too onerous, Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder has proposed decreasing the state’s testing burden. 

The plan would help alleviate a common complaint that Wyoming students and schools spend too much time preparing for tests and too little time engaged in pure learning, according to the state Department of Education. 

“I have heard the concerns of educators, parents, and students about the need to reduce the burden of testing,” Degenfelder said. “As a result, I am proposing this plan to reduce and streamline the state assessment system while still maintaining the academic rigor we need to provide valuable insight into student learning.”

Degenfelder presented the plan to the Wyoming Board of Education in late June. The board will continue working on the recommendations, some of which would require legislative action to implement. 

Less testing time

Wyoming’s assessment system measures student proficiency and progress in relation to the state’s standards, starting when kids are in kindergarten. It includes the Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress, known as WY-TOPP, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The system is used to measure the effectiveness of schools and enhance teaching.

The Wyoming Department of Education is proposing a plan to make standardized testing less onerous. (biologycorner/FlickrCC)

During Degenfelder’s first year in office, 2023, “the message from stakeholders around testing was clear — they wanted less,” according to the plan proposal. Educators across the state, including curriculum directors, superintendents and teachers, gave input that was incorporated into the plan, according to Degenfelder’s presentation to the board. 

The plan proposes the following reductions:

  • Cut the length of math assessments, including a decrease of at least 30% in the number of items on kindergarten through eighth-grade WY-TOPP math assessments. 
  • Discontinue interim assessments for kindergarten, first and second grades. These assessments are meant to provide a snapshot of where students are in their understanding and if they are on track for reading proficiency by the end of third grade. Based on changing legislation around the K-3 literacy requirements, “the optional K-2 interim test no longer serves the initial intention and only adds burden on districts and teachers,” according to Degenfelder’s presentation. These tests could be discontinued as early as the upcoming school year. 
  • Remove a third-grade writing portion from the WY-TOPP English Language Arts assessment. These changes will take effect on the 2024-25 statewide assessments, according to the presentation. 
  • Change ninth-grade math assessments to optional from required. 
  • Reformat WY-TOPP high-school math assessments from the current model of math subject areas to comprehensive math skills assessments. 

Both ninth-grade math assessment changes would require legislative action, according to the education department.

The plan also proposes launching a new data platform for parents to track assessment scores and student progress. 

How Wyoming stacks up 

Wyoming ranks 14th in the nation for education, according to the 2024 Kids Count, a report put together by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. 

The report found academic performance has suffered in Wyoming. Some 62% of Wyoming fourth graders were not proficient in reading in 2022, up from 59% in 2019. 

“Unfortunately, the pandemic has erased progress made in reading proficiency levels,” the report states. 

In addition, 69% of eighth graders were not proficient in math in 2022, up from 63% in 2019. 

Wyoming’s rate of high school students not graduating on time, 18%, had remained steady.

Despite some decline, Wyoming students continue to outpace the national scoring average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  

The State Board of Education will further discuss and take public comment on the plan when it meets in July.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.