The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

State Task Force Makes Recommendations for 2020-2021 School Year


July 1, 2020

Early last month, the Montana Flex2020 Task Force and the Montana Learn Task Force reported having completed their work and thanked Education Northwest for assisting in the compilation of their final reports. In a letter to Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen dated June 17, the Task Force members shared their recommendations and guidelines for reopening K-12 schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

Superintendent Arntzen has consistently communicated her view that the “new normal” in Montana’s K-12 schools will look different as a result of COVID-19. She has begun organizing the internal and external flexibilities that the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) and schools will need in order to serve students in this evolving environment.

The recommended guidelines take into consideration safety factors, family needs, student learning, and teacher professional development. The guidance is intended to reflect the flexibility necessary for local control and decision-making while providing a framework of options for local communities.

In an effort to prioritize and build consensus on recommendations, the task force members worked within in five subgroups, conducting three virtual sessions, as well as performing intersession work. The Task Force was comprised of 33 representatives that included school district leadership, the Board of Public Education, Montana School Boards Association, School Administrators of Montana, Montana Quality Education Coalition, legislators, legislative services, former school board members and OPI staff.

The subgroups were tasked with the following topics:

• Strengthening existing policy flexibility

• Evaluating progress and impact of state graduation, credit, funding, licensure and accreditation policies

• Maximizing flexibilities in assessment, accountability and reporting systems

• Fostering and supporting local innovation

• Leveraging federal flexibilities and resources

Encouraging a rapid response from Superintendent Arntzen, the Task Force invited consideration on their final recommendations:

• Provide a holistic current flexibility cross walk guidance document.

• Produce a one-page summary of the flexibilities available in licensure.

• Lead efforts to eliminate aggregate hours.

• Request the development of flexibility within the accreditation variances of standards and review board processes.

• Develop guidance to accommodate teachers in a high-risk health category with regards to in-person, blended, and remote learning models.

• Leverage policy and funding to get technology to students.

• Pursue an enhanced partnership with Montana Digital Academy to support remote learning.

• Expand the Transformational Learning Bill for remote and blended learning models.

• Support legislative considerations or a waiver process that empowers school districts to design their own innovative paradigm/model that fits their community needs; bundles local, state, and federal flexibilities; and provides time for school communities to plan, implement and evaluate the new paradigm.

• Leverage federal telecommunications funding and assistance programs, like E-Rate, to obtain devices and internet access for students.

• Develop and seek federal waivers for:

- Standardized assessment requirements for the 2020-2021 school year;

- Report card provisions;

- Funding flexibility for Title I, Part A to address eligibility and carry-over; and

- Funding Flexibility for Nutrition.

• Develop and pursue an addendum to the Montana Consolidated State Plan under the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) to use local assessments to measure and report student academic growth rather than Federal Mandated/State Mandated Testing.

• Draft and seek amendments to the Montana Consolidated State Plan under ESSA for:

- Entrance and exit criteria for CSI/TSI/ATSI schools that address the disruption to the system and hold schools harmless, while providing time for the stakeholders to restore and improve the accountability system for 2020-2021 and beyond; and

- The accountability system State Flex Indicator to eliminate attendance factors.

Additional information is available on the “Re-Opening Schools Task Forces” page on the OPI website. There, interested individuals will find information and ideas from various sources on topics including Distant Learning Guidelines, Addressing Unfinished Learning, and a Planning Framework.


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