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Can PAWS Test Measure Teacher Performance?

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A legislative panel working out details of a state push for education accountability is hearing conflicting views on whether Wyoming’s annual statewide public school assessment exam can be used to help determine the classroom performance of teachers.

A consultant told members of the Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability on Wednesday that the Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students, or PAWS, is the state’s best option for determining accountability.

However, State Superintendent Cindy Hill says PAWS is designed to measure school performance, not teacher performance.

The committee will meet again in December to continue its discussion on the matter and other issues dealing with education accountability.

The Legislature earlier this year passed a law that seeks to hold school administrators and teachers more accountable for how well students do in school. The committee has been working during the interim on the details of how to implement the law, such as how to measure teacher performance.

But finding answers has proved to be difficult for the lawmakers.

“Really I’d say things are up in the air right now,” Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie and a member of the committee, said. “I don’t know that anyone’s very happy with how things were handled with PAWS in the past so we’re looking for solutions to move forward. But it’s hard to say what that’s going to be.”

The statewide test has undergone changes in name and format over the years and has had problems with how it has been administered.

Still, consultant Scott Marion said PAWS is the best test for education accountability among all the benchmark assessments given to Wyoming students.

Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper, said if PAWS was going to be used to judge how well teachers are doing their jobs, then students need to be given incentive to try their best on it.

Some students take the test lightly because there’s no consequence to them now for how well they do on it, Jennings said.

“If we use it for accountability on teachers, it will be important to the teachers, but they don’t take the test,” Jennings said.

He suggested that PAWS scores could be tied to the state’s Hathaway college scholarship program, for example.

Hill said PAWS is not designed to measure how well a teacher instructs students.

“It is not instructionally sensitive,” Hill said. “It does not tell you as a teacher that you grew your kids from A to B in a school year.”

She said PAWS possibly could be used to measure teacher performance but it would mean changes to the test.

Marion said it’s possible to create a statewide test that Hill envisions but it would likely mean prescribing a statewide curriculum. Currently, local school districts determine the specific curriculum their schools use.

“Are you willing to control the curriculum the kids receive? If you are, I can build you an instructionally sensitive assessment,” he said.

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