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July 31, 2012 9:11 am

Park County makes PAWS-itive strides

Written by Dante Geoffrey

Westside behind other Powell elementary schools

Park County School District No. 1 remains ahead of the curve in Wyoming based on assessment scores recently released by the Wyoming Department of Education.

The district scored better than the state’s average in all three subjects tested — reading, math and science — in the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students (PAWS).

Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Kevin Mitchell said the “scores look real good this year.”

The Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students is given to students in grades three through eight, and juniors in high school, as part of the No Child Left Behind act.

Science assessments are given only to students in grades four, eight and 11.

According to PAWS results, math is Park County School District No.1’s strongest subject, with 84 percent of students in the district scoring at proficient or advanced levels.

All three Powell elementary schools excelled in math, with each having more than 90 percent of third, fourth and fifth graders test at proficient or advanced levels.

Math also was the subject in which the state of Wyoming scored the best, with 78 percent of students scoring at proficient or advanced levels. The state put an emphasis on math this year, as it did with reading last year.

Science again proved to be the toughest subject for both the state and the Park County No. 1 District. Only 21 percent of students tested at advanced levels, the district’s least amount of advanced scores in any subject this year. Almost half of the students (48 percent) were considered proficient.

Science also is the subject in which the largest percentage of Park County No. 1 students (15.29 percent of high school juniors and 12.06 percent of eighth-graders) scored at below-basic levels.

Despite low scores relative to other subjects, Park County No. 1’s science scores are an improvement from last year, when only 57 percent of students tested at proficient or advanced.

Generally, there was an inverse relation with PAWS scores and grade level, though it was not an absolute trend.

Third grade math scores boasted 90 percent of students as proficient or advanced. Grades four-six had more than 80 percent of students as proficient or advanced and more than 70 percent of students in grades seven and eight.  Only 66.19 percent of 11th grade students scored as proficient or advanced.

Reading scores saw a large improvement from third grade (69.56 percent proficient or advanced) to fourth grade (83.16 percent), but dropped back down to 76.53 percent in 11th grade.

Science saw a dip of 12.26 percent in students who tested as proficient or advanced between fourth grade and 11th grade (from 63.29 percent to 51.03 percent).

Reading is the only subject in which Park County School District No. 1 saw a decrease from last year in the percentage of students who scored at proficient or advanced levels. In 2010-11, 85 percent of students tested at proficient or advanced levels, compared to 83 percent this year.

Still, the district remains 7 percentage points more proficient or advanced in reading than the rest of the state.

Of Powell’s three elementary schools, Parkside Elementary had the highest percentage of students to test as proficient or advanced in math and science. Southside had the highest percentage in reading.

Westside Elementary’s test scores were the lowest of the three elementary schools based on percentage of students testing at or above a proficient level. Westside is 3.5 percentage points behind Southside and 4.12 percentage points behind Parkside. Westside also had the highest percentage of students test below a basic level.

Overall, scores are up statewide, with the percentage of Wyoming students scoring at proficient or advanced levels having increased in all three subjects tested.

Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, who has been critical of the state’s education spending, said the scores are positive, but not where he would like to see them.

“We’d like to see more students reach advanced and proficient,” Coe said. “We’d like to score as high or higher than anyone in the country, and we’re not there yet.”

Writing is no longer part of PAWS. The subject was pulled from language arts in the 2010-11 state legislative session, said Dr. Paul williams, Education Director of Assessment.

Superintendent Mitchell said the federal government does not require students’ writing ability to be assessed. If the state does not re-establish its own writing standards, Park County No. 1 will, Mitchell said.

“We need to assess our students’ writing ability,” he said.

Coe, who is co-chairman of the state Senate Education Committee, said writing assessments will be given next year. He said the tests will not be multiple choice; students will construct their own writing responses.

“We think that writing is significant,” Coe said.

A state writing test was given to Park County No. 1 students, separate from PAWS; results have not been released yet.

As part of No Child Left Behind, schools must meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) numbers set by the state. The AYP results have yet to be released, and curriculum coordinator R.J. Kost said the Wyoming Department of Education has not given a timetable for their release.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill said it’s good to acknowledge progress, but there’s always improvement to be made.

“We’re having an upward trend,” Hill said. “To see that there’s a trend going in the right direction (is very promising).”

Hill added that teachers and administrators never are satisfied; the goal is always to have every student test at advanced levels.

Scores were not released for Clark Elementary due to its low enrollment and the need to protect student confidentiality.

More PAWS data can be seen at www.edu.wyoming.gov.

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