WY-TOPP testing on the horizon

Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

As the end of the school year creeps closer, schools in Weston County School District No. 1 are beginning to enter the WY-TOPP testing window. 


While both Newcastle Elementary School and Newcastle High School have been designated as “partially meeting expectations”  by the Wyoming Department of Education after last year’s tests, but all three of the district’s schools have worked to address areas of concern in between testing windows. 

Last year’s results


As previously reported, according to information provided by Sonya Tysdal, the district’s curriculum director, two different grade levels saw a majority of their students performing below basic while others saw significant declines in the percentage of those performing at a proficient or advanced level. 


Last year, Newcastle’s fifth-grade students were ranked 38th out of 48 districts across the state in math, with 40.35% of the students performing at a proficient or advanced level, down 6.71% from the previous year’s scores. 


In reading, the fifth-grade class ranked 36th in the state, with 49.12 students performing at the proficient or advanced level, a 5.98% increase from the previous year. 


Tenth-grade students in the district ranked 33rd in math, with only 36.21% of students scoring proficient or advanced, despite a 12.02% increase in performance from the year before. 

In reading, the students were ranked 40th in the state, with 41.38% of students categorized as proficient or advanced, down 10.23% from the previous year. 


Ninth-grade students at Newcastle High School experienced declines in both math and reading, with 42.11% (29th in the state) of students proficient or advanced in math and 49.12% (33rd in the state) of students ranked as proficient or advanced in reading. These percentages represent a 19.29% and 26.32% decline, respectively. 


Other areas of decline in local scores were seen in fourth grade. According to the report, 54.41% of students performed at a proficient or advanced level in math, a 22.41% decrease from the previous year. The grade ranked 26th in the state. 


Also seeing a decline in performance levels was the eighth-grade class. While 52.73% (22nd in the state) of the students performed proficient or advanced in math, that was 11.98% lower than the previous year. 

Test Prep


At the high school, Principal Bryce Hoffman said the school worked on targeting math and English language arts. Both of these areas required improvement plans after last year’s WY-TOPP testing. 


“To target students in math, we took the students who struggled in math before and placed them into an ER group to work on standards that our students did not perform well on previously and on the WY-TOPP interim. Another strategy to target this area was to review geometry standards with sophomore students who are in Algebra II,” Hoffman said. “The sophomore test is a geometry test, and so these students have not been exposed to those standards for a year. So this review was designed to refresh some of those skills that they may be rusty on.” 


As far as English is concerned, Hoffman said that the students in ninth grade were placed in a class to work on skills in which they have shown deficiency on past state and local testing. He noted that teacher judgment was also a factor in deciding student placement. 


At the junior level, students worked on preparation for the ACT (college testing program), as well as focusing more in both English and science. 


At the elementary school, Principal Brandy Holmes reported that the school specifically targeted math. As part of its improvement plan, the school had two specific goals addressing math, both of which focused on building and implementing a more consistent program across all grade levels. 


“Using the Bridges Math program, all grade levels have committed to implementing key components with fidelity. We have also utilized assessment data to target interventions more systemically,” she said. “Grades three through five have utilized WY-TOPP modules throughout the year to help practice and monitor progress. This also gives an opportunity for individual goal setting.” 


Despite not having to create a school improvement plan, Newcastle Middle School Principal Tyler Bartlett said that teachers at the school have spent a lot of time throughout the year looking at how they can “take things up a notch.” 


“We challenged ourselves to continue to improve on areas of strength, while also addressing any perceived concerns. Every year is a new experience for our students with new teachers, new standards, etc.,” Bartlett said. “We’re continually evaluating how we’re doing throughout the year with assessments besides WY-TOPP to try to ensure students are getting what they need.” 


To accomplish these goals, he said, the school continues to use the Power Hour intervention period. This time provides opportunities for students to receive extra help in literacy and math. 


“This is entirely based on individual student need, and groups are built according to all sorts of evidence, including classroom assignments, teacher judgment, district common assessments, progress monitoring tests like Acadience and WY-TOPP tests,” Bartlett said. “Teachers are continuously evaluating their curriculum road maps and working to finetune what we’re doing based on all evidence we’re seeing with our students.” 



Why test


With all of that in mind, he said, each year is unique and while last year’s scores were positive at the middle school, this year may be completely different. 


“The challenge is not to just continue to evaluate what we’re doing as teachers, but also continue to find ways to motivate students to give their best on a test that doesn’t really impact them in any meaningful way,” he said. 


And while Bartlett has openly expressed his dislike for standardized testing, he explained that it is another piece of evidence that can be used to analyze a student's learning and growth. 


“It gives us more data to reflect on as educators,” he said. 


Hoffman had similar sentiment on the test, stating that it can provide positive insight into the areas where a student may be struggling. 


“Our hope is that the data is accurate to give us another set of measurements for students to better understand their struggles and academic needs,” he said. 


“WY-TOPP is another data point we can use to reflect upon individual performance as well as our programming as a whole. When compared to information we already have, it helps us to pinpoint areas that are going well and areas needing more focus,” Holmes added. 


It is important to remember that it is one test, on one day, Hoffman said. 


“When considering student performance, I would like us to look at the student as a whole throughout the school year. Measurement over time is a better indicator of their understanding of the continent and their growth,” he said. “Students in general seem to carry more stress over the ACT test than the WY-TOPP. The ACT can be linked to college admissions and scholarships.” 


Holmes said that while it is frustrating that the scores don’t reflect the hard work and growth that the staff sees in students, it is only one piece of data from one particular day. 


“We know that we need to look at the whole picture. This is an opportunity for reflection and growth, which is never a bad thing,” she said.


Bartlett noted that he doesn’t think students and staff at the middle school are feeling the stress necessarily. 


“Sure, our teachers want our students to show off all their hard work. We know our kids have learned a lot this year, and we want to show that,” he said. “Prior to my time as principal, I think a bigger concern for us than student stress was student motivation. As I’ve alluded to previously, it can be a challenge to get an 11-, 12-, or 13-year-old student to hang in there during a test that takes two hours to complete. There’s not always a reason for them to endure that struggle, which is why we implemented our WY-TOPP growth incentive a few years ago.” 

Motivating students


With the hopes of motivating students, even when they don’t necessarily feel like it, Newcastle Middle School rewards students for performing well on the test. Students who perform proficient or advanced on any test or demonstrate above-average growth in reading or math will be rewarded. 


Newcastle Elementary School will also offer incentives and activities to encourage students to do their best this year. Holmes said it will hopefully make the testing experience a little more fun. 


“While we want them to take it seriously, we also don’t want to cause undue stress on a child,” she said. 


In an email to parents, Bartlett acknowledged that there might be some frustration with rewarding students for performance on standardized tests, noting that he struggles with it himself. 


“However, as long as the Wyoming Department of Education continues to evaluate and compare school districts using this measure, we will continue to try and find fun ways to encourage students to try their hardest and reward them for their efforts,” he said. 


“To be clear, we know that there are more important things in life than a standardized test. At the same time, we’re very proud of the work our students and teachers have put in during the year, and we’re excited for them to show how much they’ve learned by doing their very best on these tests,” the email says. “We want to reward their hard work accordingly.” 


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