Montana’s latest plan to submit to the feds for the Every Student Succeeds Act proclaims an ambitious approach to meeting students’ needs primarily through test scores. It names as a goal a 4% annual reduction in numbers of students who are not proficient in math and language arts, across the state, on average. According to the plan, smaller schools as well as subpopulations will have to make bigger gains than 4% in order to maintain this statewide average. The tests to be used for these calculations are the Smarter Balanced assessment in grades 3-8 and the ACT in grade 11.
The proposed ESSA plan also places emphasis on graduation rates and measures of school quality. For graduation rates, the plan aims to reduce the number not graduating by 4% each year. As for school quality, measurements of attendance rates, STEM or college- and career-ready coursework, and school climate surveys will comprise the entirety of a what it means to be a quality school in Montana.
Montana does administer the WIDA ACCESS, or English language learner assessment. Many of Montana’s EL students do not speak another language but their academic language is negatively impacted by historical outcomes (especially in Native American communities which were devastated by boarding schools and assimilation policies). The state’s ESSA plan aims to set the bar high for students to exit the WIDA program, but it also wants to reduce the number of non-proficient. This presents a logical or mathematical puzzle, as students who attain proficiency are exited; thus, only non-proficient students remain in the pool of students whose scores are to be averaged.
Finally, the state has asserted that the bottom 5% of Title I schools after the 2018-2019 school year will be identified for “targeted support.” The goal is to exit these schools out of this status in 7 years. It is unclear whether there will always be a “bottom 5%” or if it is possible that no schools could be targeted for improvement.