HELENA — Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen said some Montana student test data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education weeks before she took office were “falsified” and out of compliance.
“They did not meet state and federal reporting standards and misrepresented student proficiency,” Arntzen said Friday, noting she shared the “discovery” with the Board of Public Education earlier in the day. “It was reported that all Montana (high school juniors) were proficient.”
However, her predecessor, Denise Juneau, told Lee Newspapers of Montana that Arntzen was misconstruing the issue and “jumping to conclusions.”
Juneau, who was superintendent for eight years before Arntzen took office this month, said she was never contacted and could have clarified the situation to Arntzen.
Arntzen told the Board of Public Education that her office had “recently uncovered” that the state’s decision two years ago to drop standardized testing of high school juniors in favor of offering the ACT college admission test was noncompliant with federal and state proficiency standards.
Eric Feaver, president of the state teachers union, said the fact the ACT did not meet federal standards was not new. He said that the board and education advocates “were all in agreement” to move forward with ACT testing despite being noncompliant.
Montana is one of a handful of states seeking to take advantage of a federal education law that allows them to replace standardized tests in high schools with recognized college entrance exams, like the ACT and SAT, so long as they can make a successful case for the switch in a peer-review process.
Juneau has argued the ACT helps families make better choices about college readiness while reducing the amount of over-testing in schools. The tests are funded by a grant from the Montana University System’s GEAR UP program.
Arntzen said the issue could put federal funding for our Montana schools at risk although she said no federal officials had raised the specter of lost funding.
Federal education officials did not return a request for comment.
Juneau said she doubted federal officials would pull funding for the state for noncompliance since it has known about the ACT use for years, and knew it would be discussed in an upcoming February peer review process, which other states have used to receive federal permission for administering the ACT in lieu of standardized tests.