Education survey shows lack of confidence in system

CHEYENNE – Survey results finding a lack of confidence by stakeholders point up the perceived need to update the education system for current times.

Leaders of educational organizations across the state told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle they are listening to this feedback, and see this as an opportunity to address assessment practices, and take a holistic approach focused on life skills and workforce development. They said this is a change from the No Child Left Behind education initiative started in the early 2000s, which focused on testing in mathematics, English language arts and science.

Academic excellence is still important, but Wyoming School Board Association Executive Director Brian Farmer said he can understand the need for attention to modern life skills. He expects both the State Board of Education and Gov. Mark Gordon’s Imagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education (RIDE) Advisory Group will place an emphasis on teaching resilience, perseverance, work ethic, collaboration and communication following further conversations with stakeholders.

“We are at a transformational point in education right now,” Farmer said. “Wyoming is not alone in this.”

The survey conducted by the governor’s education advisory group found that 59% of the respondents believe K-12 schools in the state do not adequately prepare children for the future, with emphasis placed on life skills and learning expectations. Close to 8,000 stakeholders gave input, which Gordon said he was pleased with because it shows residents are engaged in education issues.

“This report is a great place to start reimagining education because it is constructive feedback, not an indictment of our schools,” Gordon stated in response to the survey. “It’s always good to take an honest look at our performance, and I am deeply appreciative of the number of Wyomingites that are engaged in this effort. This is a chance for us to gather information and identify opportunities about how and where we can improve.”

Farmer believes these results are not cause for public alarm, and, rather, a guide for improvement. He said the RIDE survey could have been done at any time, and it would have received similar answers. This is due to the rate of change in technology and how fast information is being produced and distributed.

An example he used was the publication of books, and to compare how many pieces of literature and encyclopedias are published in one year today, compared with even one or two decades ago. The executive director said the rate of increase of information is exponential, which means that kids have yet to become prepared for jobs that haven’t even been thought of yet.

He believes it’s not that the school system is failing them, it’s just more important than ever to consider how to prepare students for an ever-changing world, where there is no way to give them all of the content knowledge they will ever need. He said this is a new challenge in education.

Wyoming Education Association President Grady Hutcherson also cited the need to reevaluate the education system.

“The future is inherently filled with change, and with progress comes uncertainty,” he said. “We can’t intuit everything students will need to know to be competitive in the job market 20 years from now. But we can continuously evaluate and work to improve the education students receive today.”

One of the most significant areas in which he has seen requests for change is assessments.

His organization recently conducted a statewide teacher satisfaction survey, which found that just over half of Wyoming public school teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “the way we assess students makes me want to quit teaching.” Combined with the RIDE responses from stakeholders, Hutcherson said it relays a message that both educators and other community members see room for improvement in assessment.

“I think it’s time we revisit how we are assessing students,” he said. “Of course, we need to gauge their progress through our mandated assessments, but let’s explore limiting the standardized tests given at the district and school level.”