Wyoming education update
House District #20 Representative
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
November 5, 2015
November 2, 2015
Hello Sublette County, on October 29 and 30, I participated in meetings of the Select Committee on Education Accountability and the Joint Education Committee. Our agenda included K12 student assessment, leader accountability, school safety, digital security/privacy, transferring credits, and the Hathaway Scholarship.
Legislation from last session created the Wyoming Statewide Assessment Task Force, whose duties were to make recommendations on the next K12 assessment system. Currently, students in Wyoming take the PAWs test, which no one seems happy with. The task force made several recommendations, including that the state-wide test should be used in multiple states to create efficiencies, have data security, testing times not to exceed 1% of the school year, state of the art question types, online administration, and be administered as late in the school year as practical. The Task Force suggested that an interim test be developed in the package and be made available to districts, but not required. It further recommended that local district assessments remain controlled by local school boards. The use of the ACT in 11th grade as part of the high school accountability achievement indicator was rejected by the Task Force, and they recommended the option for either the ACT or a career readiness test like WorkKeys be taken in 11th grade. The latter will be a hard sell in our legislative committee, because several committee members believe the ACT should be mandatory for all students.
The most consistent complaint I hear about K12 education, from both educators and parents, is that children are tested too much. I do not believe you can test a child to greatness, but you can teach him to be a lifelong learner. We do test children too much, yet the federal reauthorization of No Child Left Behind appears to be maintaining that testing burden. I support the Task Forceís efforts to restrict the time students spend testing. I supported a motion to draft the recommendations of the Task Force into a bill, but I will be taking a hard look at the bill.
Alternative High Schools have been an issue for the Wyoming Accountability Act, because these schools are educating students with different needs than traditional high schools. In response to legislative charge, the Alternative Accountability Advisory Committee (AAAC) was formed as the technical advisory group working in conjunction with the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) "to develop a valid and reliable accountability model" for Alternative Schools. Based on the report from the AAAC, we asked for legislation to be drafted utilizing their recommendations. I remain unconvinced that Wyoming needs a statewide accountability act, because accountability should occur at the local level through locally elected school boards.
The Accountability Act required a look at leader accountability, and I believe the recommendations of the Advisory Committee to the Select Committee were good ones. They include creating a shared vision for principals and superintendents, standards for an evaluation system, a better recruitment system, developing increased training, entrance, and internship requirements, and implementation of a system of supports.
The Office of Homeland Security, the Wyoming Attorney Generalís office, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction provided a report on school security and efforts to create a school safety program, like Coloradoís Safe2Tell program. Last year a bill that would have created a Unit of School Security within the Department of Criminal Investigation failed in the Legislature, because legislators were concerned about the expense of the program. We heard great testimony out of Colorado last session about the number of bullying, suicide, and other threats that were prevented in their schools by Safe2Tell. Saving one child from suicide would easily be worth the money that would have been invested in the program. At our meeting on the 30th, Director Guy Cameron of Wyoming Homeland Security spoke to the creation of a program that would require no new Wyoming dollars, but would rely on a federal grant and shifting personnel and resources between agencies. I really like it when government works across divisions to solve problems. My hat is off to these folks, and we passed a bill out of committee to implement these recommendations.
The Digital Security Task Force this interim produced two bills on student privacy that the Joint Education Committee considered at our meeting for introduction to the Budget Session. One bill would make it illegal for a district to compel a student to provide digital information from the studentís own device. The bill also requires the State Superintendent in consultation with the Department of Enterprise Technology, the Department of Audit and school districts to establish and maintain guidelines for school districts for the collection, access, security and use of student data by school districts. The bill further requires that the Superintendent develop standards and protocols to remove personally identifiable student information when conducting data collection and analysis. The second bill mandates that electronic communications solely between students attending a school in Wyoming, and electronic communications solely between students attending a school in Wyoming and a sender or recipient using a non-school user address are not a public record of that school. We heard testimony from the UW student government president that student e-mails have been subject to public record searches. The language eventually placed in the bill was co-developed by UW student government and the Wyoming Press Association.
We heard testimony from the University of Wyoming on the continued progress of aligning Wyoming Community College and University of Wyoming curricula in order for students to finish in four years. While not complete, the colleges and UW have made great strides in developing co-four-year programs, and 2+2 programs. It is essential this occurs, because students should not have to waste time and money trying to match their community college careers with UW programs. The committee really appreciated the progress.
A report on the Hathaway Scholarship Fund showed interest from the Permanent Fund far exceeded the demands from current scholarship awards. The Committee passed a motion to draft a bill that would increase the amount of the Hathaway Scholarships, because tuition increases have undercut the purchasing power of the scholarships. We will also look at other aspects of the Hathaway at our final meeting in December.