BILLINGS — The Office of Public Instruction will ask schools to raise test scores significantly, especially for Native American and special education students, in a new education road map that will be submitted to the federal government later this year.

The plan aims to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind in December 2015. Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen pulled back a plan submitted by previous Superintendent Denise Juneau, saying the process had moved too fast.

At a Wednesday press conference, Arntzen emphasized that changes are still being made to the plan and OPI will accept public input from school officials and the public up to the end of August.

The test score improvements would call for at least 4 percent of non-proficient students to improve to proficient on state-required tests. ESSA requires the same goal to be applied to sub-groups, such as students with disabilities. And because different sub-groups have different achievement levels, they’ll be asked to improve at dramatically different rates.

More students with disabilities get non-proficient scores than an average student. They will be expected to improve math proficiency levels by 18.5 percent, compared to 11.6 percent for white students. Native American students will be expected to raise proficiency levels by 17.9 percent.

The plan calls for far more improvement than Juneau’s plan. The federal Department of Education has issued sharp feedback to some states that already submitted plans, including criticism for goals that weren’t “ambitious” as the law requires.

“We’ve listened to the field and we believe that 4 percent is achievable,” said Susie Hedalen, OPI’s director of educational services.

The education of students with conditions identified as disabling is directed by an Individualized Education Program, said Mark Thane, Missoula County Public School superintendent. Evaluating these students based on their individual plan may be a more effective way of judging their progress, Thane said Wednesday.

The district will work hard to educate and assess all its students, though, he said.

"If we do a good job of that, test scores will take care of themselves," Thane said.

Regardless of the state proficiency goals, schools need more money from the state for the education of students with disabilities, Thane said — especially because of the potential rule changes being proposed to the Affordable Care Act. Schools now bill Medicaid for some of the services they provide to their special education programs, Thane said.

"If we lose access to that Medicaid reimbursement, a critical revenue stream will be lost to use, further impacting our special education resources," Thane said.

An inflationary increase to the special education budget was approved by the Legislature this session, but is being funded by local taxpayers through permissive levies and not through state funds, Thane said.

The process Juneau followed to put together the first plan was a good one and people put in a lot of good energy to create it, said Thane. He isn't sure what the differences are between that plan and the one released this week, but said he'd be getting together with some of the district's region heads next week to discuss the possible implications of the plan.

Another change from the Juneau plan is the inclusion of college and career readiness as a state-picked indicator, along with attendance, school climate, behavior and student engagement.

High schools will be asked to have students meet one of the following criteria: passing an Advanced Placement or Dual Enrollment class, meeting college-ready benchmark scores on the ACT test, or completing a designated series of Career and Technical Education courses. Thane would like to see International Baccalaureate classes also added to that list.

Hedalen said OPI is considering adding other options, such as participation in programs like Future Farmers of America.

ESSA requires states to blend several factors into an overall rating for schools: academic achievement, academic progress, graduation rates and English language learner proficiency progress, plus another category with factors picked by states.

The law also still requires that states administer standardized tests, and requires them to identify and try to improve struggling schools.

Some rules for the law are still changing, as the Education Department transitions from the Obama Administration to Trump appointee Betsy DeVos, who pushed back some initial deadlines for submitting plans.

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