CHEYENNE – The 2013 Legislative session has left the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) with new direction and timelines for implementing the Wyoming Accountability in Education Act (WAEA) as the State's education system.
This summer the WDE continues to work on the Legislature's accountability efforts concentrating on three areas: the School Performance Model, data requirements of districts, and the Teacher and Leader Evaluation process.
"The theory of action is identify where there is excellence, identify where there is underperformance and try to help improve the underperformance and provide the supports where they are needed," said Dr. Mike Flicek, a consultant working with the WDE and the Legislative Service Office.
A Group Process
The WDE is far from alone in the accountability process. The WDE is working with the Select Committee on Educational Accountability -- a subcommittee of the Legislature devoted to the idea of educational accountability in Wyoming -- to set the course for the effort. The Advisory Committee to the Select Committee on Educational Accountability, was created in 2011 to assist the Select Committee in its work on educational accountability. This group of educators and policymakers from around Wyoming has been directed to work with Legislative consultants to study and design a teacher and school district leader evaluation and accountability system.
The Professional Judgment Panel (PJP) is a 27-member panel of teachers, administrators and members from higher education as well as the business community. Their role is to set cut scores for each of the indicators to help categorize schools as exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, partially meeting expectations or below, not meeting expectations. The PJP will meet in September to set the targets for each indicator. Members of the PJP were selected by the State Board of Education based on nominations it received in March of 2012.
School Performance Model
Currently, the school performance model is housed in a 15-page draft, which was presented to the Wyoming State Board of Education and Joint Education Committee (JEC) last month. It describes all of the indicators, which would contribute to a school's rating. For grades 3-8, the indicators will be: achievement, growth and equity measured by growth. For grades 9-12, the indicators will be achievement, readiness and equity measured by achievement gap.
How those indicators will be weighted is still being determined with help from the Advisory Committee and the PJP. More information on the model will be available in a future newsletter story as consensus is achieved on the targets.
The WDE hopes to provide schools with a "dry run," after the PJP meeting in Sept. to show them what their school ratings would be using 2012-13 data, while showing those determining cut scores and the developing the model where more works is needed in the process. The hope is the model will be ready to rate schools by the 2013-14 school year.
Changes in Information Management
Ninth grade credit accumulation, as well as Hathaway Scholarship eligibility levels will be part of the high school readiness indicator to be used in calculating a school's performance rating and will require a different data collection from districts to the WDE. However, WDE personnel say they hope the additional burden on district will be light.
"Most of the data that we are going to use to calculate the school performance ratings we already have," said Drew Dilly, the Information Management Unit Director at the WDE. "Everyone wants to reduce the data burden," Dilly said. "Data burden on the districts translates to data burden on the agency."
Ninth grade credit accumulation will be one of four sub-indicators used in measuring the Readiness component in the School Performance Rating Model. It will measure the number of ninth grade students with at least one-fourth of the total credits needed to graduate from a district. Dilly said he believes that reporting can be done using existing tools at the WDE.
"We have a mechanism in place to report transcript information for seniors," Dilly said. "Currently it is being used only for graduating seniors. There is no reason we can't open that up to any demographic we want. We want to use that tool for the ninth grade credit accumulation."
Hathaway Scholarship level eligibility will now also be measured by the WDE, and used in the School Performance Model. Wyoming colleges currently determine the eligibility level of students interested in attending Wyoming colleges. Now, each Wyoming high school senior (whether they intend to attend a Wyoming college or not) will need an eligibility level for accountability, which equates to an index score to be used as a subindicator on the School Performance model. The actual scholarship awards for students will continue to be determined by Wyoming colleges. In most instances the elibibility level for accountability and the eligibility determination made by Wyoming colleges will be in agreement. This will become increasingly true as districts improve their transcripts and reporting processes.
Dilly and Flicek both agree that the goal of the new data reporting is to let schools understand how they arrived at its school performance rating and where things are working and where improvement is needed.
"The work on data requirements and reporting is the big work," Flicek said. "The theory of action is that, in order for schools to get better, you have to have transparency within the data. We don't have level of transparency yet, but we are working on it."
Teacher and Leader Evaluations
A framework is beginning to take shape in the area of teacher and school leader evaluations, a piece of the WAEA. Carol Illian, Supervisor of Teacher and Leader Quality at the WDE, said she has been impressed with the work of the Advisory Committee to the Select Committee, which has been tasked with developing a teacher and leader accountability framework.
Full implementation of the leader evaluation system is required in 2015-16 with full implementation of teacher evaluations in 2016-17. Illian said some professional learning and piloting of the accountability efforts would begin in 2013-14 in order to test the system and make necessary adjustments before 2015-16.
"It is still not totally-defined," Illian said. "The intent is to have a model framework that the districts can use, or they can use their own system if they stay within the framework guidelines."
Illian said there has been agreement on the five domains on which teachers will be evaluated. They are: learner and learning; content knowledge; instructional practice; professional responsibility; and evidence of student learning. The Advisory Committee is continuing to discuss the required weights of those five domains.
The levels of performance descriptors are named in the law – highly effective, effective performance, in need of improvement, and ineffective. A complete description of each performance level continues to be developed and evaluated.
The June 18 Advisory Committee meeting will be focused on a review of the teacher evaluation model and in-depth work on the principal evaluation framework.
"A strength of the work is the deep conversations around finding the right tools and measurements to make sure all teachers are equally accountable," Illian said. "I think there was some fear that only math and language arts teachers were going to be held accountable for student learning."
Both Flicek and Illian stressed the philosophy that accountability in Wyoming isn't about removing teachers from the classroom, but supporting instruction.
"I have heard the conversation multiple times centered around improving instruction in our classrooms and schools. I don't believe that the Advisory Committee or Select Committee wants to find a way to fire principals and teachers. They want to find ways to support and improve instruction and student learning," Illian said.
"Right now people are assuming that it is going to do things that it will never ever do," Flicek said. "People are making assumptions that I am going to get fired if my test scores aren't good enough. Nothing is going to be that black and white. It is not about firing people, it is about finding the support to help people get better."