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No Child Left Behind is gone. Here’s the Montana plan for the new law.

November 19, 2016 GMT

Montana education officials released the first draft of the state’s plan to comply with a new federal education law on Thursday, detailing how the state will evaluate schools and intervene if they aren’t making the cut.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, passed last spring, was hailed as a step away from the much-reviled proficiency goals of No Child Left Behind and a return to more control of states and school districts.

The law still requires that states administer standardized tests and requires them to identify struggling schools.

It mandates states use four academic indicators for evaluating schools: academic achievement, academic progress, graduation rates and English language learner proficiency progress. It also lets states pick one or more additional indicators.

Montana’s plan includes school climate, defined as “the quality and character of school life,” by the National School Climate Center, as the extra indicator. The plan says that the Office of Public Instruction will be developing a rubric for evaluating school improvement plans that will include a survey on school climate factors.

School climate will hold less weight than other factors in determining an overall score for schools.

A stakeholder group of more than 30 educators, administrators and public officials from around the state advised OPI on the preferred school climate.

“They were pretty clear in all of the discussion that that’s what they pretty much unanimously wanted to see,” said assistant superintendent of education services B.J. Granbery. “We want them to feel like their voices were heard and we were paying attention to what they thought would be best.”

For academic achievement and progress goals, schools that score below statewide average scores for Smarter Balanced or ACT tests in math and English-language arts will be expected to make progress toward those averages. Schools that score above the average are expected to maintain or improve their scores.

The state will identify the lowest 5 percent of Title I schools, which receive extra federal funding because they have a high proportion of students from low-income families, and all high schools with a graduation rate below 67 percent for comprehensive support, the largest-scale state intervention. ESSA defines the thresholds.

Intervention isn’t necessarily punitive. Schools typically are assigned more training and may receive extra funding. The plan bases recommended interventions off existing programs like Schools of Promise, which is designed to improve low-performing schools on Montana Indian reservations, and the Montana Striving Readers Project, which aims to improve literacy outcomes.

State officials said they’ll likely adjust the plan after reviewing comments from the public and the governor’s office during a 30-day review period and submit the plan to the federal Department of Education before current Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau leaves office.

“We tried to go with a broad framework to allow people to weigh in,” Granbery said.

But it’s unclear how Donald Trump’s election as president will affect the ESSA rulemaking process, which is ongoing, or if it could push back submission deadlines for state plans. The current deadline for first drafts is in March.

Incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen has said that she believes the plan submission process is moving too fast.

Speaking from Baltimore where she attended a meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers, Arntzen said she hasn’t had a chance to fully review the plan yet.

“I know a lot of good work has gone into this,” she said. “I don’t know if three stakeholder meetings is enough ... I know that there will be amendments to this as the process continues.”

States will have a chance to revise their plans after the first review by federal officials, and OPI officials said they believe Arntzen could pull the plan back after its expected December submission to make changes before the March deadline.