Common Core Test Problems Could Jeopardize Federal Funding in Montana

Aaron Flint posted on April 22, 2015 13:54 :: 507 Views

Policy Common Core

Despite major problems with the Smarter Balanced (SBAC) testing system across the region, a recent decision by the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) allowing school districts to withdraw from the Common Core-mandated program could put millions of dollars in federal funds at risk for the state.

A statement issued last week by the U.S. Department of Education addressing the suspension contained a veiled threat directed at Montana.

“It is the responsibility of states to ensure that all students are assessed annually because it gives educators and parents an idea of how the student is doing and ensures that schools are paying attention to traditionally underserved populations like low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners,” Department spokesperson Dorie Nolt stated according to the Billings Gazette.

“The Department has not had to withhold money — yet — over this requirement because states have either complied or have appropriately addressed this with schools or districts that assessed less than 95 percent of students,” Nolt continued.

After repeated system crashes in Nevada, North Dakota, and Montana, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau announced last week that state schools could individually decide to suspend testing until administrators could identify and correct the technical problems.

Juneau’s decision is expected to prevent Montana from meeting federal standards put forth in the 2001 No Child Left Behind law which mandate that schools nationwide test at least 95% of students “in designated grade levels.”  The state’s current testing plan will only cover 90% of Montana students, the Gazette states.

School districts across the state are heavily reliant on federal dollars which are provided annually to schools with increased ratios of low-income student populations. According to data compiled by OPI, 676 school districts across Montana receive either “school-wide” or “targeted-assistance” through Title I. According to the Gazette, Montana schools receive over $40 million in federal funds through the program.

This incident is the latest in a series of clashes between states and the U.S. federal government over education funding and policy. It also highlight’s a growing problem with Montana’s over reliance on federal funds for state administered programs. Overall state reliance on federal funding has increased to record levels in recent years with Montana consistently ranking among the top state recipients of federal dollars.

Nineteen states across the nation have rejected either part or all of Common Core mandates, potentially putting federal education dollars in each of those states in jeopardy. However, no state has yet had its federal dollars withheld. Critics of Common Core contend that not only will the program result in increased spending and further dependence on federal funds, but also a significant reduction in state autonomy to set education standards and adjust policy to specific state populations.

During this session, the Montana Legislature heard several bills which would have targeted the implementation of the Common Core standards in the state. The bills ranged from full repeal of the standards — such as HB 377 — to legislation that would clarify that students and legal guardians own data collected by Common Core-based assessments.

Interestingly, OPI argued against such bills, because they claimed it could cause the state to be out of compliance with federal standards and jeopardize federal Title I funding.

J. C. Kantorowicz – Great Falls

Thursday, April 23, 2015 6:46 AM

I learned (as a farmer) many years ago that if you take the federal government’s money……. You are obligated to take the federal government’s advice!

I see it as therefore mandatory that the “pigs” at OPI step away from the federal “hog trough”. Think back decades to a time before the federal Dept. of Education……. Was the state of Montana able to educate the children adequately? I would wager that education was far superior back then to today.

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