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Wyoming Ditches State Test, Despite Feds' Preference

Expressing a preference for using the ACT instead of its own academic proficiency test for high school juniors, Wyoming has decided to move ahead and eliminate that proficiency test for 11th graders, despite the U.S. Department of Education's opinion that the state should keep the test.

On Aug. 6, the state Board of Education voted to eliminate the administration of the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students (PAWS) exam with Educational Testing Service, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. That follows a directive from the Wyoming Legislature's Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability earlier this year to the state education department to discontinue the exam for juniors.

What makes the move unusual is that the U.S. Department of Education previously told the state to keep administering PAWS to juniors despite the actions of state lawmakers. The Associated Press reported today that state officials want to eventually convince their federal counterparts that the PAWS test is no longer necessary. Indeed, the PAWS test has been criticized for being too long, but that's not the only problem the state has had with the exam. In May of last year, the state reached a $5.1 million settlement related to problems with how PAWS was administered in 2010.

As state Rep. Steve Harshman, a Republican, told the AP, lawmakers made the decision to focus exclusively on the ACT for high school juniors "because that's what matters to kids and families."

This casts the PAWS exam (used for No Child Left Behind Act accountability purposes) in a clear light. Lawmakers are obviously more concerned with a score that affects the post-secondary choices of their constituents than a test required for compliance with federal law. Now, the state has announced that it is seeking a "waiver" from NCLB, although the state actually appears to be asking federal officials to freeze their annual measurable outcomes while they work on other federal requirements. It's not clear, however, whether that request, even if it's granted, will cause federal officials to reverse their position regarding PAWS.

All of this doesn't mean the state won't highlight good PAWS news, however. Late last month, the Wyoming education department announced that for the second consecutive year, students showed an "upward achievement trend" on PAWS exams.

Lawmakers appeared set on using the ACT whether or not PAWS stayed in the picture. As this April report from the state education department notes, before the decisions were made by state officials to eliminate PAWS, even if PAWS was used in the 2012-13 school year, it would be administered "in addition" to a college-entrance exam to high school juniors.

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