October 18, 2005
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Montana Office of Public Instruction
1227 11th Avenue
Helena, MT 59620-2501
Dear Superintendent McCulloch:
I am writing in response to Montana's request to amend its State accountability plan under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). The changes you requested are aligned with NCLB and are now included in an amended State accountability plan that Montana submitted to the Department on September 30, 2005. The changes are listed in an attachment to this letter. I am pleased to fully approve Montana's amended plan, which we will post on the Department's website.
You had also requested that we explain in writing why the request to use a "small school" accountability review methodology for every school in Montana was not approved. In coming to this conclusion, we reviewed Montana's progress in meeting the four guiding principles of Raising Achievement: A New Path for No Child Left Behind when considering the first request. Montana began using a new assessment last year, so there are no trend data available to guide our analysis of student achievement. Even so, the primary issues are that Montana is not adhering fully to the four guiding principles. Specifically, Montana has several Title II monitoring findings that have not yet been resolved (e.g., there is not a test available for elementary school teachers), and the compliance agreement regarding assessments from the 1994 ESEA is outstanding. While we are in productive discussions with you and your staff on all these issues, at this time, we cannot approve Montana's request for flexibility under these circumstances.
As you know, the Department is considering additional flexibility on a number of issues that may be of interest. The Department recently announced additional flexibility and plans for how students with disabilities are assessed and included in the accountability system, and Montana is approved to implement this flexibility this year. We are also considering policies specific to limited English proficient students and the measurement of student growth in accountability models. As this work continues, I will continue to work with you to ensure that every available flexibility may be afforded to you, whenever possible. Further we remain open to discussions with you on accountability issues given the rural nature of Montana.
If, over time, Montana makes additional changes to the accountability plan that has been approved, Montana must submit information about those changes to the Department for review and approval, as required by section 1111(f)(2) of Title I. Note that approval of Montana's accountability plan is not an approval of Montana's standards and assessment system. As Montana makes changes in its standards and assessments to meet requirements under NCLB, Montana must submit information about those changes to the Department for peer review through the standards and assessment process.
Please also be aware that approval of Montana's accountability plan for Title I, including the amendments approved above, does not indicate that the plan complies with Federal civil rights requirements, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
I am confident that Montana will continue to advance its efforts to hold schools and school districts accountable for the achievement of all students. I wish you well in your school improvement efforts. If I can be of any additional assistance to Montana in its efforts to implement other aspects of NCLB, please do not hesitate to call.
Henry L. Johnson
cc: Governor Brian Schweitzer
Amendments to the Montana Accountability Plan
This attachment is a summary of the amendments. For complete details, please refer to the Montanaaccountability plan on the Department's website: http://www.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/stateplans03/index.html.
Adequate yearly progress determinations (Element 5.3)
Revision: Montana will use the "proxy method" (Option 1 in ED's guidance dated May 7, 2005) to take advantage of the Secretary's interim flexibility regarding calculating AYP for students with disabilities. Montana will calculate a proxy to determine the percentage of students with disabilities that is equivalent to 2.0 percent of all students assessed. For this year only, this proxy will then be added to the percent of students with disabilities who are proficient. For any school or district that did not make AYP solely due to its students with disabilities subgroup, Montana will use this adjusted percent proficient to reexamine if the school or district made AYP for the 2004-05 school year.
Use of confidence intervals (Element 5.5)
Revision: Montana will use a 99% confidence interval when making AYP decisions.