WYOMING SCHOOLS AT A CROSSROADS: State Board of Education Member Calls Profile of a Graduate the State’s “North Star”

Profile creates guidance for future high school graduation requirements

By Elizabeth Sampson

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Defining the qualifications of high school graduates in Wyoming is the goal of the Wyoming State Board of Education’s new Profile of a Graduate.

This profile, which is designed to guide education policy decision making, came about after the state board, the Wyoming School Boards Association and the Department of Education conducted a statewide survey to learn about residents’ vision of a Wyoming graduate.

Between virtual listening sessions that started in the spring of 2021 to in-person events that concluded in the summer of 2022, the state board collected about 1,200 data points. According to the results, Wyomingites want graduates to not only have academic knowledge, but also to develop career, community and life skills. They hope students can participate in internships, meaningful long-term projects or job shadowing.  

Ryan Fuhrman, now in his third year as chairman of the State Board of Education, helped lead the profile project.

“We’re tasked with setting the vision and the goals for the state, and I feel like we’re really living that now as a product of the work we’ve done on Profile of a Graduate,” Fuhrman said.

The primary role of the state board is to approve the educational standards for all grade levels. Currently, Wyoming has proficiency standards in 10 content areas—math, science, English language arts, social studies, computer science, fine and performing arts, world language, health, physical education and career and technical education.

The board is reviewing existing standards to determine whether they are manageable for educators and examining graduation requirements through the lens of the new profile.   

“We heard from our stakeholders that they want meaningful, purposeful and innovative high schools,” Fuhrman said. “The state board wants to honor that with picking graduation standards that align with that.”

Ryan Fuhrman is the chairman of the State Board of Education. He was appointed to the board in 2017 after being named Wyoming Teacher of the Year.

Furhman, 43, is the principal of Tongue River Elementary School in Sheridan. A former science teacher, he was appointed to the board after being named Wyoming Teacher of the Year in 2017.

Furhman recently spoke with the Wyoming Truth about how the new profile will impact the state’s education system. What follows are excerpts from the interview.

What is the purpose of the Profile of a Graduate? 

Fuhrman: I would describe it as Wyoming’s North Star for education in that it’s very aspirational. It’s meant for people making decisions in the education sphere to see if those decisions line up with what the profile captured.

How did the state board create the profile?

Fuhrman: We tried to just reflect back what we heard.  

We had everyone from high school graduates to Wyoming business [owners] speak toward their hopes for the system. I think we captured a really good view of what people aspire our system to do. 

We then went back out and said, “This is what we think we heard. Did we capture that?”

According to Wyoming residents surveyed, what are the most important skills for students to have when they graduate from high school?

Fuhrman: The system, since No Child Left Behind, has been laser focused on standards, and while that’s still really important, that wasn’t talked about when people talked about what they wanted our system to produce…They wanted connection and meaningful learning to be the hallmark of our schools—especially in high schools. Our students are doing more than just learning things so they can take a test, but they’re learning things so they can apply them to their life. 

How might that look in Wyoming schools?

Fuhrman: If you are involved in FFA or you’re a Boy Scout, or you’re showing leadership in some way outside of the school day, what can we do to acknowledge that and say you are acquiring skills? Right now, the model is you get credit for spending time in a class and getting anything above an F. 

We’ve had a lot of showcases of how learning can look different from what we think of when we picture a high school classroom. One of our high school ag teachers built a barn so his kids could bring their livestock to school and learn about ag with their own livestock.   

Here’s a really important caution: I think it would be very risky for a top-down approach of, “You need to do this, and it needs to look this way.” That’s just not Wyoming, and that’s not this board. Instead, our work is about creating opportunities and hopefully doing an even better job of showcasing districts when they try out these ideas and find success with them. We have 48 districts and 48 communities, and it’s not going to look identical in each one.

The standards have given us so much benefit, but they haven’t done everything. So we need to keep investigating to improve education to make sure it’s really serving our citizens. How can we improve the standards so we get a set of laser-focused standards that ensure equity, ensure learning, but also allow for innovation within our schools to try to realize this profile.

Will some current K-12 standards be eliminated?

Fuhrman: Do some standards maybe need to go? The state board thinks yes.

There are more standards than there is time for the education system to master them, let alone…allow for work-based experiences or deep meaningful projects. We need to make sure we’re getting the number and the focus of those standards absolutely dialed in.

What kicked all of this off is the legislature adopted the 10th content area—computer science…We heard from a lot of teachers who said, “We don’t have gobs of time where we’re not doing anything. So if we’re going to add a 10th area, what are you taking off?”

What we knew is that districts [that] were having success were prioritizing their standards at the district level.

That triggered the question if the board can prioritize at the state level, and that led to the attorney general looking in and saying, “Actually, you need to do that for all of the standards, because in Wyoming, we have a constitutional requirement for a uniform system.” By passing so many standards that districts are having to prioritize them at the district level, that means districts will prioritize them differently. The state board should prioritize them so there is uniform priority. It was also the attorney general’s opinion that we need to identify graduation standards, which led to the profile.

How did Wyoming end up with more standards than teachers have time to teach? 

Fuhrman: The way the system works is, you bring a whole bunch of teachers into a room and say, “What is every essential bit of information these kids need to know?” Guess what happens? There is not a standard they don’t love. What we’re doing now is working with how we can bring in curriculum directors, because they work to get all the standards implemented in their district. They have the viewpoint to understand how all the standards work in concert.

When will any new standards come online? 

Fuhrman: It’s not an overnight process. It’s like turning a really big ship. It’s three years after standards are officially adopted before they are required to have them reflected at the district level. We’re hoping we’re making an investment as soon as we can to start paying dividends.

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