Montana gets the green light from the feds

Montana gets the green light from the feds

By Dale Chu

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) officially greenlit Montana’s waiver request. This is big news in the world of large-scale testing as, among other things, it allows the state to move forward with its innovative assessment pilot without “double testing” (more on this below) during the upcoming school year. Alert readers will remember that New Meridian has been working with Montana on this effort (we interviewed their CEO earlier this year).

Here’s the specific language from Adam Schott, a Deputy Assistant Secretary at USED, that releases Montana from the federal requirement to test every student with the same exam:

The following requirements are waived for schools participating in [Montana’s] field test for the 2023-24 school year:

ESEA sections 1111(b)(1)(B) and 1111(b)(2)(B)(i), which require a State educational agency (SEA) to apply the same challenging State academic standards and to use the same academic assessments for all public school children in the State. Under this waiver, any individual student in Montana will be permitted to take only one assessment in R/LA and mathematics in the 2023-24 school year (i.e., either the current statewide assessment or the field test) [emphasis added].

Up to this point, the pursuit of improved assessments has been hampered, according to many states, by the federal requirement that they had to continue administering their current annual assessments alongside new ones. From the student perspective, this often meant taking both the current state test along with any pilot exam (i.e., double testing). Uncle Sam has now removed that obstacle in Montana.

Of course, it’s a slippery slope between a one-year waiver and opening the floodgates to states seeking to get out from under USED’s watchful eye—which creates the potential for mischief. Innovation and creativity in testing should be encouraged and supported, but moving forward it will be especially important for the feds to be both thoughtful and vigilant with regard to the approval of any future waiver requests.

Back to Montana: This news couldn’t have come soon enough. The term of the state’s superintendent of public instruction, Elsie Arntzen, expires in 2025 and she is term-limited. Arntzen has been supportive of the pilot, but the balance of her time in office is relatively short. It will be interesting to see the shifts—and there is always shifting—when new leadership comes aboard.

CCSSO released a statement celebrating the decision. We’ll have more to say in upcoming posts, but suffice it to say that all eyes are on Montana when it comes to state testing this year.

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