WYOMING SCHOOLS AT A CROSSROADS: After Pandemic-Era Drop, Wyoming Students’ Test Scores Hold Relatively Constant

Newly-released education data shows students’ performance on statewide assessments were mostly unchanged from 2021, though advocates say more investments are needed to combat pandemic interruptions

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

New figures from the Wyoming Department of Education reveal public school students’ performance on statewide assessments remained relatively unchanged from last year’s results, which had fallen significantly amid the COVID-19 pandemic’s unprecedented interruption of the American public education system.

Data released Tuesday from the 2021-2022 Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress, known as WY-TOPP, and Wyoming Alternate Assessment, or WY-ALT, reveals that overall proficiency rates among public school students in grades 3-10 fell by 0.8 percent in English language arts, rose by 0.3 percent in math and fell by 0.1 percent in science when compared to results from the 2020-2021 school year.

The findings show that the declines in student performance observed last year—and mostly attributed to the pandemic—appear to have slowed. Last year’s results found students’ proficiency falling across the board: overall English language arts proficiency dropped 1.8 percent, math dropped 3.3 percent and science fell by 1.9 percent when compared with scores from the 2018-2019 school year. The WY-TOPP assessment was not administered to students during the 2019-2020 school year due to school closures.

Data released Tuesday by the Wyoming Department of Education shows the performance of public school students in grades 3-10 remained relatively unchanged from last year in areas of English language arts (blue), math (red), and science (yellow), welcome news given significant declines in prior years as a result of the pandemic. Note: the WY-TOPP assessment was not provided to students in the 2019-2020 school year due to COVID closures. (Wyoming Truth graphic courtesy of data from the Wyoming Department of Education)

In a statement announcing the release of the 2022 data, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder celebrated Wyoming’s teachers for doing “a tremendous job ensuring student learning continued through the pandemic.”

“Although there are areas where results decreased slightly for a second year, overall they were less than three percent compared to the state results prior to the pandemic,” Schroeder added. “Wyoming’s commitment to keeping students in the classroom continues to be reflected in these assessments [sic] results.”

According to the Wyoming Department of Education, the WY-TOPP and WY-ALT (a similar test provided to students with learning disabilities) are administered through an adaptive online platform. Students in grades 3-10 take the test for math and English language arts, while students in grades 4, 8 and 10 take the test for science.

The student proficiency findings in Wyoming come as educators and policymakers continue to grapple with the impact of COVID-related school closures on students’ success nationwide. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress released earlier this month found that 9-year-olds’ average performance dropped by 5 points in reading and 7 points in math since 2020, plunging students back to performance levels comparable to those of two decades ago.

Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those of Black and Hispanic descent saw their scores fall more than White students or those from wealthy families did, the national data revealed. Though the organization has not yet released state-level data for 2022, it found that  student performance in the West fell by less than it did among those living elsewhere in the country.

In Wyoming, schools were temporarily closed in March of 2020 as the coronavirus first began to spread but reopened sooner than in many other parts of the country. During the 2020-2021 academic year, Wyoming had more in-person school days than any other state in the nation, according to research from the school data tracking firm Burbio.

“It was really important to our policymakers to get kids back into the classroom, and I agree that our kids need to be in the classroom to read,” Megan Degenfelder, Republican nominee to replace Schroeder as Wyoming Superintendent, told the Wyoming Truth in an interview earlier this month. She pointed to mental health as a particular area for educators to prioritize.

Though the 2022 figures showed a slowing of students’ performance declines from 2021, some stakeholders still believe more investments in state education are needed to recover from the damage the pandemic caused.

“The relative stability of our state’s standardized assessment scores is a testament to the tireless dedication and tenacity of our incredible students and education employees,” Grady Hutcherson, President of the Wyoming Education Association, said in a statement to the Wyoming Truth.

“However—though the acute phase of this pandemic is behind us—our students need continued support,” Hutcherson continued. “I hope the relative stability of our WY-TOPP scores spurs districts to reflect on what they have done right and where they need to continue investing federal funds from the American Rescue Plan to mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19. These funds represent an unparalleled investment in American education and provide an avenue for investment in the people, services, programs and infrastructure our students need to continue healing and begin thriving.”

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