The U.S. Department of Education, despite a plea from Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, denied her request to utilize local assessments instead of the federally mandated statewide test, even after a challenging COVID 19 school year.

Arntzen spoke to KGVO after spending several hours on the phone with the Department of Education.

“We asked the federal government and the Department of Education for a ‘yes’ on waiving our mandated statewide high stakes assessment, and they came out with a ‘no’ yesterday in the afternoon late,” said Arntzen. “So we had another call with them this afternoon on the rationale and the reasoning why.”

Arntzen expressed her frustration over what she termed an unnecessary and burdensome test.

“I believe in transparency,” she said. “I believe in accountability, but a high stakes standardized test at the end of this school year that has been tremendously disrupted, isn't going to show any data that is going to be meaningful for learning moving forward.”

Arntzen presented a phalanx of support from federal and state officials in her request to not present the test to Montana’s over 800 public schools.

“We had letters coming from the governor's office, from Senator Daines, Congressman Rosendale, and even the MFPE teachers union was supportive, our Board of Public Ed, and our tribal education caucus as well,” she said. “So we had a lot of support, we put this up for a comment for 30 days, so we could get Montanans’ input and everyone said ‘yes’.”

Everyone except the U.S. Department of Education.

Arntzen said she did take advantage of several options made available to her office from the Department of Education.

“We are seeking other flexibilities,” she said. “We're shortening the test, so instead of a full week for an assessment, we're looking for just a couple hours every day to get this thing taken care of. We've also then looked at a medical exemption, so students who have been out with COVID for whatever reason do not need to be tested, and so we are not mandating students to take the test.”

No student is expected to be brought into in-person learning for the sole purpose of taking the statewide assessment.  No school will receive sanctions for testing fewer students.  The primary focus must be on student educational needs, prioritizing instruction, and decision making nearest the student.


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