Gazette opinion: Let Montana make the call on student testing

2013-09-30T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Let Montana make the call on student testing The Billings Gazette
September 30, 2013 12:00 am

In July, Montana’s superintendent of public instruction, Denise Juneau, wrote to the federal Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and made a simple request: Let the state replace an old test with a new one that will better measure students’ learning and Montana’s adherence to Adequate Yearly Progress (better known as AYP).

We call on the U.S. Department of Education to approve this reasonable, well-considered request for a waiver.

What Juneau proposes to do is replace the current criterion reference test, a relic of No Child Left Behind, in the spring of 2014 with a field test created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). SBAC has been awarded funding from the Department of Education to develop a system for assessing student and school performance based on the new Common Core State Standards.

What this means is that Montana students in grades three through eight and grade 11 would be administered the SBAC-developed test, which is designed to assess how well students are grasping deeper language and math concepts, as opposed to the rote memorization called for by the CRT. We consider this a positive step.

In her letter, Juneau pointed out other benefits for the state that the Department of Education would do well to consider:

— Replacing the CRT would ensure that there was no double testing of students, thus increasing teachers’ instructional time.

— The state would draw a bead on the readiness of its computer hardware and networks to administer these online tests going forward.

— The way would be cleared for a smoother transition to the 2014-2015 assessment, when No Child Left Behind itself will be left behind. Under NCLB, 2014 is the year all schools are supposed to be at 100 percent proficiency. That, of course, is not going to happen, and it’s all the more reason to let Montana’s schools make the early jump to the new testing.

— Finally, and perhaps most important, students will be assessed on what they are learning in classrooms now.

Montana isn’t the only state seeking a federal waiver. In California, the Legislature passed a bill to retire the old test this school year and replace it with one linked to the Common Core curriculum. The Department of Education has balked at that and threatened to withhold some Title I funds over the issue. The feds’ beef is that not all students would take a test this year, as the law requires, and that the practice run’s results would not be released, thus hampering the federal government from determining whether No Child Left Behind targets have been met.

Juneau’s letter outlined her proposal for dealing with that situation here. If given a waiver, she wrote, Montana would roll forward the CRT test results from this past spring to determine AYP for 2014. In our estimation, that seems a reasonable way to allow Montana to move more seamlessly toward new testing protocols and for students to put what they’re learning now to better use.

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