District tops state in WY-TOPP results
September 2, 2021
Despite the impact of a global pandemic altering every aspect of life and changing how students attended school, Sweetwater County School District No. 2’s students are performing higher than the state average.
The Wyoming Department of Education released the 2020-2021 WY-TOPP results last week. A gap exists between the 2018-2019 and 2020-2021 school years due to testing being canceled during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite that, the district made gains in the percentage of students testing at proficient or advanced levels in math, English language arts and science.
Overall, the district’s percent of students testing proficient or above on the math portion of the test grew by two percentage points, from 60.4% in 2018-2019 to 62.3% in 2020-2021. This growth comes as the state’s average dropped by two percentage points, from 50.8% to 48.0%. Both percentages were higher than the data recorded for the state’s virtual students, with 27.4% testing proficient or advanced in 2018-2019 and 21.9% in 2020-2021.
For Craig Barringer, superintendent of the district, the math scores show the district’s teachers are dedicated to helping students succeed. Barringer said math is a subject that is very sequential in terms of how it is learned and problems can develop if a student doesn’t have a full grasp on a mathematical operation before learning a new one.
“We’re happy with the fact we’ve made gains,” he said.
Math scores also saw a large boost in ninth and 10th grades between the two tests. In 2018-2019, 34.09% of ninth graders and 39.91% of 10th graders tested at proficient or advanced, both of which are lower rates than the state averages of 40.38% and 45.2% respectively. In the 2020-2021 tests, 61.31% of ninth-grade students and 53.55% of 10th-grade students achieved proficient or advanced levels, beating the state averages of 41.75% and 44.7%
In language arts, the district slightly grew the level of proficient and advanced students, with 61.1% in 2018-2019 and 61.3% in 2020-2021. The percentages are higher than the state’s average, which also saw slight growth through the pandemic from 54.7% to 55.0% between the two tests. The state’s virtual averages declined during this same period, from 48.5% to 43.1%.
Barringer, who recently completed his 13th month as superintendent, said he isn’t aware of what specifically led to the growth in math scores or what maintained language arts scores because he started shortly after the pandemic closed schools, but he thinks the positivity and willingness to help students helped keep them engaged while they were forced to learn in a virtual environment. Barringer said one of the main fears the district had during last year’s WY-TOPP testing was that the time spent out of the classroom would result in some score declines.
Barringer also cited the declines for the state’s virtual students as evidence backing up the idea that students do better in the classroom as they have a more structured environment and face-to-face interaction with teachers and other classmates.
While the results are great, Barringer also admits there are places to improve. In the middle school language arts tests, the number of students testing at proficient and advanced levels drops significantly between the seventh and eighth grades. During the 2018-2019 year, 67.57% of seventh graders achieved a proficient or advanced level while 59.31% of eighth graders hit those levels, testing slightly lower than the state average of 60.72%. In 2020-2021, the same drop can be seen with 60.2% of seventh grade students hitting proficient or advanced while 54.76% of eighth graders tested at those levels, again coming in lower than the state average for eighth grade language arts at 60.65%. Science scores, which are only tested at the fourth, eighth and 10th grades, are also an area Barringer wants to improve.
Barringer said with science, the district is working with the University of Wyoming and meeting with science teachers to refine how science is taught in the district. He said the district is also looking at how they can improve the scores with individual student groups throughout the district.
He also said the district plans to bring a consultant into Lincoln Middle School to help assess why eighth grade scores decline and implement potential solutions to improve the scores.