Montana Strategic Waiver Updates
Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen submitted a request to the U.S. Department of Education (Department) on February 5, 2021, to waive Montana’s federally mandated state standardized tests, that is, (1) Superintendent Arntzen’s Montana Strategic Waiver Request, (2) Montana Waiver Application, and the (3) Public Comment Summary Report.
On April 6, the Superintendent received a letter from Ian Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs, declining approval of the waiver. The OPI had proposed the option to the Department to allow local assessments (e.g., interns) and other measures of student learning and progress to provide information to parents and educators. The OPI reinforced Montana’s system of local control in its discussion and made it clear these decisions are best left to the local level who know the context and unique needs of their local community. Since March 4, Superintendent Arntzen met with the Department’s Assessment Team on three different occasions to share Montana's unique circumstances and conditions for schooling over the past year.
The Department indicated the OPI had not demonstrated the specific circumstances that would warrant granting a waiver of the annual statewide assessment requirements and, specifically, not administering statewide assessments at all. Through negotiations Superintendent Arntzen has secured the accountability and reporting waivers offered by the Department. These flexibilities grant school districts relief from the “Academic Achievement Indicator” participation rate calculation on the 95 percent requirement within the federal accountability process and school identification.
Montana is providing the option of state assessments this spring and is seeking maximum flexibilities within the law. School districts should plan on providing students the opportunity to assess when it is safe to do so. No student is expected to be brought into in-person learning for the sole purpose of taking statewide assessments. The safety, health, and well-being of school staff and students is the number one priority this spring.
To provide flexibility to schools and students across Montana, the OPI has extended all testing windows this spring to the greatest extent practicable using a balance with reporting information to families and educators. Further, the OPI leveraged all feasible assessment flexibilities allowed by the Department, including a shortened version of the Smarter Balanced assessment for Math and English language arts (ELA) and medical exemptions related to the effects of COVID-19.
The OPI will continue to support assessments for districts that can safely administer them within their instructional/intervention/acceleration learning plans. The OPI will also explore options to add the MetaMetric state-level services to enhance reporting to families and educators and help generalize student progress on a common scale across state and local assessments. Montana is committed to providing technical assistance and professional learning to our schools to support transparency and reporting needs for students, families, and educators. The Montana Strategic Waiver Actions Timeline is a timeline of events that led up to the Department’s decision to deny the Montana Strategic Waiver Application.
OPI Flexibility with State Assessments
- Plan on delivering tests this spring when it is safe to do so. The participation requirement to administer state assessments is required under federal and state law.
- The Smarter Balanced, Montana Science Assessment (MSA), and Alternate Montana Science Assessment (AMSA) have had the test windows extended until May 28, 2021.
- The Montana Pre-Testing Checklist provides tasks that should be completed before the planned testing day to ensure a smooth testing experience for students. This resource describes the prioritized tasks and some tips to make sure your school is ready.
- The OPI has partnered with the Office of Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE) to secure flexibility for the ACT spring administration with the “ACT COVID Emergency” test date that is available in early May for schools who may need this opportunity for reasons related to the pandemic.
- The Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA) has extended the test window two weeks until May 14, 2021, for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
- No remote proctoring (at-home testing) service for remote learners. School districts wishing to afford the opportunity for remote-only learners to participate in state assessments this spring can use the OPI’s Sample Family Letter. Other sample parent letters for state assessments can be found on the OPI’s Statewide Testing Parent Corner Page.
Shortened Smarter Balanced Assessment
Superintendent Arntzen has implemented a considerably shortened assessment. This will reduce testing time to support schools and preserve instructional time. The blueprint removes the ELA Performance Task (PT) and replaces it with brief writes in the Computer Adaptive Test (CAT). The shortened test will be shortened by an average of 3–4 hours. To learn more about this test modifications, view the session titled “Five Things You Must Know About Smarter Balanced This Year”.
Approved Field Test Waiver for Science
The Department extended the OPI’s science field test from last spring to this spring 2021. This field test waiver decouples the accountability and reporting requirements from the census administration. The waivers will benefit Montana’s students and educators in many ways including providing the opportunity to:
- Transition fully to the new science standards.
- Transition to new tested grades and engage with new item types.
- Experience the new online science testing format used by the AMSA and MSA.
How do I learn about testing updates?
The OPI Assessment Unit will continue to share information to the field via the Assessment FAQ: COVID-19 Testing Alerts, Monthly Assessment Bulletin Newsletter, Monthly Webinars, COVID-19 State Standardized Testing Guidance, and other communication means.
Who do I contact for additional information?
The Assessment Team is here to help. Contact us at the Assessment Help Desk by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-844-867-2569.