Montana OPI announces pilot program for new student testing model

Montana Office of Public Instruction
Posted at 10:18 AM, Aug 25, 2022

HELENA — The Montana Office of Public Instruction says schools across the state will be trying out a new type of student testing this fall, as state leaders pursue what they call a “more balanced assessment system.”

In a statement this week, Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen announced OPI had partnered with New Meridian, a nonprofit based in Texas, to develop a new “testlet” assessment model. Instead of one test with 60 or 70 questions at the end of the year, it would include multiple assessments – each with eight to 12 questions – about six times a year.

“From my viewpoint as a classroom teacher, let’s have the test be meaningful, have it be a teaching tool within the classroom, have it be a relationship between the teachers teaching and the students learning,” said Arntzen.

Leaders say the individual data could be used immediately at the classroom level, and it could be combined to give a picture of student progress at the school and district level.

“It brings that assessments are not just, ‘Pencils in the air everyone, and now you have 45 minutes to show me what you’ve learned,’” said Arntzen. “It’s more of a process of learning. It’s not something different; it’s part of the chain of when you learn a skill and you share what you know.”

Arntzen told MTN the alternate assessment model would be adjustable to each individual student’s needs. That means some students in the same grade might not have all the same questions – and that the resulting data would focus more on individual improvement.

New Meridian was founded by Arthur VanderVeen, who previously led PARCC – a multistate consortium designed to develop an improved student assessment. While many of the states that participated in PARCC later left, New Meridian’s website says they carry on the legacy of that work in a more flexible form.

Arntzen said OPI reached out to New Meridian because of their experience in developing assessments.

“We went to them and asked them, ‘What could you do?’” she said. “They were thirsty for innovation.”

This year, OPI says more than 30 school districts will start using the “testlet” system, starting with fifth and seventh grades. At least 3,200 students will take part.

Arntzen said the list of districts hasn’t been finalized yet, but they expect to include a wide variety – from large Class AA urban districts to rural schools and tribal areas.

Leaders say they’ll use the results of this year’s tests to evaluate and improve the new model. They hope to expand the pilot program to fourth and sixth grades in 2023, and to third and eighth grades by 2025.

Arntzen said, for now, districts participating in the pilot program will still have to conduct their regular standardized tests at the end of the year. OPI has asked the federal government for a waiver to allow them more flexibility. Arntzen said they should find out in about a month whether they will receive it.