Wyoming officials have eliminated an annual proficiency test for high school juniors, despite being told by federal officials that they should keep administering the accountability exam.
A measure passed by state lawmakers this year requires that a standardized collegeentrance exam take the place of the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students, or PAWS, for juniors.
On Aug. 6, the state board of education said the state should remove the 11th grade PAWS test from its ets contract.
The proficiency test is given in grades 3-8 for accountability purposes under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. In 2011, PAWS was the subject of a $5.1 million settlement the state received from NCS Pearson, a Bloomington, Minn.-based testing company, because of problems with the test’s online platform. (For the 2012-13 school year PAWS, the state switched its testing contract to the Educational Testing Service, based in Princeton, N.J.)
Republican state Rep. Steve Harshman told the Associated Press that the state instead wanted juniors to take the ACT college-entrance exam “because that’s what matters to kids and families.”
However, the state has not gotten permission from the U.S. Department of Education to administer only the ACT. Wyoming has not applied for a No Child Left Behind waiver that would free its schools from having to reach 100 percent proficiency on the PAWS by the end of the 2013-14 school year. Instead, it has asked the department only to temporarily freeze at current levels the annual testing targets schools must hit to make progress under the federal law.
So far, 33 states and the District of Columbia have received waivers. In a July 26 letter to Wyoming schools chief Cindy Hill, the federal education department told state officials that they should still administer PAWS for juniors in the next school year, despite the change to state law.
Paul Williams, the director of assessment for the Wyoming education department, said the state nonetheless planned to submit the change to the U.S. Education Department for a formal review.
Asked about Wyoming’s testing change, federal Education Department spokesman Justin Hamilton would only say: “States can choose to comply with No Child Left Behind, or they can apply for a waiver to get flexibility in exchange for reforms. And we’re happy to work with them in either case.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 22, 2012 edition of Education Week