- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana’s top education official said on Tuesday the state is unlikely to reach the required participation rate in student achievement tests this year.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau said she expects between 82 percent and 92 percent of schools to participate following technical problems with a new, online testing system. The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act requires 95 percent of schools and students to participate in the annual exams.

Deputy Superintendent Dennis Parman said it would be the first time Montana has not reached the goal.

“The challenge is that all of these things are outside our control,” Juneau said.

Juneau made the testing optional for school districts on April 15 after software glitches delayed some students from taking the first standardized tests under the Common Core standards that Montana and about 40 other states have adopted.

Twenty of 159 schools have taken Juneau up on her offer, the superintendent said Tuesday.

Fifty-five percent of Montana schools have administered the tests since the launch date on March 30, which Parman said was delayed from March 18 because the system was not ready for use.

“Even providing this flexibility for school districts to decide on their own whether they want to go forward, we’re getting a high percentage of participation, which says a lot,” Juneau said. “Our public schools treasure that information; they want to know how they’re doing.”

Schools have through June 12 to test students.

Juneau said she expects other states also will fall short of the participation requirement given widespread technical problems in administering the computer-based testing. Montana, Nevada and North Dakota contracted with Measured Progress to execute the assessments and saw the same system errors on March 24 and April 14.

“For our situation, my goal is to hold school districts harmless,” Juneau said.

Participation in the annual exams is one criterion tied to about $40 million in federal funds for Montana schools and millions more in other states. Dorie Nolt, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, said in a statement that the department has yet to withhold money based on low participation.

“If the department decides to cut funding it’ll be because the superintendent offered flexibility to schools on whether or not to test because of the ongoing delays,” Parman said.


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