Powell schools: Meeting or exceeding expectations


In nearly every subject and grade, Powell students scored above the state average in this year’s standardized tests.

The Wyoming Department of Education considers those test results in its performance ratings for K-12 schools.

“This is where you can really be proud of your district, because they’re shining,” R.J. Kost, curriculum coordinator for Park County School District No. 1, said during a school board meeting last month.

Westside Elementary School is exceeding expectations under the state’s school performance ratings. Parkside and Southside elementary schools are both meeting expectations, and were very close to receiving an “exceeding” rating, Kost said.

Both Powell High School and Powell Middle School also are meeting expectations.

The alternative high school accountability model is in its final pilot year, so the state data does not include school performance ratings for alternative high schools, such as Shoshone Learning Center.

Kost said the Powell school district showed “great growth by all of our different buildings, great growth by the kids.”

“We’re where we need to be so that we can help these kids be successful,” he said.

In 17 of 19 areas tested last spring, Powell students exceeded the state average.

“On the two where we weren’t, it was really close,” said Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Jay Curtis.

Curtis, who became the Powell superintendent in July, said it’s a pleasure to be in a high-performing district where tests are taken seriously, but “it’s truly not about assessment scores.”

“... It’s about doing what’s right for kids, and giving them the right skills so they can be successful,” Curtis said. “And if that equates to great results on assessments, then we’re certainly going to ring that bell.”

He said Powell educators want to keep a healthy perspective: “As good as we’re doing, we never want to settle.”

“The good news is, kids are leaving Powell High School ready to take on the world,” he said, whether it’s college, the military or a career.

“And that’s what everything that we do — from the time they’re in kindergarten to the time they’re a senior — that’s what it all boils down to,” Curtis said.

Above state average

Students in third through eighth grades took the PAWS test last spring.

In the majority of subjects tested, Powell students scored higher in 2017 than the previous year. Eighth-grade science saw the greatest improvement on PAWS, with a 17 percentage-point increase in the number of students who tested at proficient and advanced compared to 2016.

“That was a lot of hard work,” Curtis said.

In nine out of 14 PAWS categories, Powell students exceeded the state average of students who tested at proficient and advanced by 10 percentage points or more.

Fifth-grade students in Powell scored nearly 19 percentage points higher than the state average in math, with 77 percent of students testing at proficient and advanced.

Seventh-grade reading scores were 15.5 points above the state average, with 71.9 percent of students at proficient and advanced.

In fourth-grade reading, 75.2 percent of students achieved proficient and advanced scores; fourth-grade math saw 70.3 percent of students at that level.

In all but one subject — third-grade math — Powell students exceeded the state average on PAWS. Curtis said schools are aware of the slight dip in third-grade math scores and are working to address it.

In Aspire assessments last spring, PHS freshmen were above the state average and saw improvements from the previous year. Local sophomores tested just slightly below the Wyoming average on the composite score, which was 427.3 for PHS — compared to 427.4 for the state.

The PAWS and Aspire tests will no longer be used in Wyoming schools. Beginning next spring, students will take the Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress (WY-TOPP).

The switch in assessments makes the previous data meaningless, Curtis said, since there won’t be a crossover between the two assessments.

Since PAWS started almost a decade ago, Wyoming has adopted new standards and moved the bar for what qualifies as proficient from year to year.

“It has been a really difficult decade to try and compare student performance,” Curtis said.

“It would sure be nice for our own growth for us to pick a test, stay with a test and let us adjust and align,” he added. “If the Legislature could do that, there’s no question in my mind that they would see the results they’re seeking.”

Students from grades 3-10 will take WY-TOPP assessments starting in 2018. The test replaces PAWS, which was given to students in grades 3-8, and the Aspire assessment, which was given to ninth- and 10th-grade students.

With 2018 being the first year for WY-TOPP, it will be a baseline year, Curtis said.

Meanwhile, students in 11th grade will continue to take the ACT.

Powell students improved on the ACT in 2017.

On average, PHS juniors achieved a composite score of 20.4 on the ACT last spring, which was 0.7 points higher than the previous year.

PHS juniors also scored above Wyoming’s average composite score, which was 19.7.

The state requires all students to take the ACT as juniors. Of the states that require 100 percent participation in the test, Wyoming ranked seventh for its ACT scores, but was only 0.2 behind Colorado, which ranked second.

Kost said there’s been “real good growth” in Wyoming for ACT scores.

“We’re doing all right,” he said. “We’re moving along.”