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Montana's Assessment Snafus Could 'Test' NCLB Law

Montana has just decided to make testing under the Smarter Balanced assessment optional, after some serious technical snafus, as my colleague, Andrew Ujifusa reported over at State EdWatch.

The problem? The No Child Left Behind Act law requires states to test all students in math and reading in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. And every student in each grade must take the same test as every other kid in the state. (The Education Department has made some limited exceptions to this rule, in Kansas, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.)

So is Montana worried it could lose federal funding if it doesn't comply with a requirement in the NCLB law that 95 percent of students take tests?

It doesn't look like it. Denise Juneau, the state chief, told Andrew that nearly every school in the Treasure State is failing to meet the law's achievement targets anyway. So not meeting the 95 percent threshold may not really matter much. (More in this story about what the feds are likely to do if 95 percent of students don't take tests.) Plus, she's pretty sure that most students will end being tested.

It's worth nothing that, unlike 42 other states and the District of Columbia, Montana doesn't have a waiver from the NCLB law. Which is why it's still, technically, at least, beholden to adequate yearly progress, the law's signature yardstick for measuring student achievement.

Incidentially, Montana is also seeking to "pause" accountability during the 2015, according to a letter the department sent to Deb Delisle, the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, on March 31. That was an option that the Education Department opened up both to states with waivers from the NCLB, and waiverless states, like Montana, that are making the transition to new tests.

So far, at least five other states are also seeking the pause, including Colorado, Mississippi, Oregon, and South Carolina, and Vermont. The latter, which does not have a waiver but is also participating in SBAC for the first time this year, also wants to hit the accountability snooze button. More in this story.

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