July 16, 2008
The Honorable Linda McCulloch
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Montana Office of Public Instruction
1227 11th Avenue
Helena, Montana 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 of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Following discussions between the Department and your staff, you made certain changes to Montana's accountability plan, which are now included in the amended state accountability plan that Montana submitted to the Department on July 3, 2008. I am pleased to approve Montana's amended plan, which we will post on the Department's website. A summary of Montana's requested amendments is enclosed with this letter. As you know, any further requests to amend Montana's accountability plan must be submitted to the Department for review and approval as required by section 1111(f)(2) of Title I of the ESEA.
Please also be aware that approval of Montana's accountability plan for Title I, including the amendments approved herein, 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. If you need any additional assistance to implement the standards, assessment, and accountability provisions of NCLB, please do not hesitate to contact Jessica Morffi (Jessica.Morffi@ed.gov) or Collette Roney (Collette.Roney@ed.gov) of my staff.
Kerri L. Briggs, Ph.D.
cc: Governor Brian Schweitzer
Amendments to Montana's Accountability Plan
The following is a summary of the state's amendment requests. Please refer to the Department's website (www.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/stateplans03/index.html) for Montana's complete accountability plan.
The following amendments are aligned with the statute and regulations.
Including students with disabilities in AYP determinations (Element 5.3)
Revision: Montana will use the "proxy method" (option 1 in our guidance dated December 2005) to take advantage of the transition flexibility regarding calculating AYP for the students with disabilities subgroup, as offered by the Department pursuant to its authority under 34 C.F.R. § 200.20(g). See www.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/modachieve-summary.html. 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 the 2007-08 school year only, this proxy will then be added to the percentage of students with disabilities who score proficient or above. Montana will use this adjusted percentage proficient to re-examine if a school or district made AYP for the 2007-08 school year only if the school or district that did not make AYP solely due to its students with disabilities subgroup.
Revision: Montana will implement a procedure for certain LEAs to exceed the cap of 1.0 percent for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who score proficient and above on Montana's alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards (CRT-Alt) and thus whose scores may be included as proficient and above in AYP determinations. Any LEA with fewer than 200 students may count the scores of up to two students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who score proficient or above in AYP determinations without submitting an annual request to exceed the 1.0 percent cap.
Minimum subgroup size (Element 5.5)
Revision: Montana will use a minimum group size of 30 students for the "all students" group and all subgroups when calculating the proficiency rates for AYP determinations.
Amendment that is not fully aligned with the statute and regulations
The following amendment does not comply with the statute or regulations. Therefore, it may not be included in Montana's accountability plan.
Applying Montana's small school review process for making AYP determinations to all schools (Element 3.2)
The Department cannot approve Montana's request to extend its "small school review" (SSR) process to those schools with more than the minimum group size. This request is inconsistent with section 1111(b)(2)(I) of the ESEA, which requires a state to measure AYP for all students and student subgroups according to a state's annual measurable objectives, which must be defined consistent with statutory provisions that govern setting starting points and intermediate goals over a 12-year timeline. This requirement is tempered only for groups that fall below the state's minimum group size needed to yield statistically reliable information. Montana's SSR, although approved for use with small schools, bases AYP determinations on a subjective scoring rubric and does not emphasize the performance of subgroups. In addition, we note that the vast majority of students in the state (75 percent) are enrolled in eight school districts, with the largest, Billings, enrolling 15,000 students.[see comments in memo] It is not necessary or appropriate for Montana to use its SSR for large districts and schools to ensure valid and reliable results.