Task force wants to change accreditation standards

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Student achievement may play a larger role in state accreditation standards if the Montana Board of Public Education approves recent revisions suggested by a special task force.

For the first time, proposed standards include measuring and considering student performance.

Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Denise Juneau said the intent is to provide flexibility and promote innovation within standards and procedures contained in Chapter 55 of the Administrative Rules of Montana.

Chapter 55 defines what a “quality” education looks like from class size to policy requirements, Juneau said. The last time Chapter 55 was revised was in 2007.

The Chapter 55 Task Force was composed of 28 representatives from various sized schools and educational organizations. Among the 28 were Glacier High School Principal Callie Langohr, Kalispell Public Schools board trustee Mary Ruby, Kalispell Middle School teacher Sharon Applegate and Flathead High School English Department Head Sue Brown.

The task force reviewed and made comprehensive revisions to standards over the past two years.

“The Chapter 55 Task Force was designed to look at the entire document rather than on a piecemeal basis,” Brown said.

Current standards are primarily input-based rather than performance-based, Juneau said. For example, a school may have high student achievement yet still be out of accreditation for not having enough librarians per students.

Brown said offering alternative ways to meet accreditation for high-performing schools not meeting assurance standards — and vice versa — was a significant part of the revision process.

Under proposed revisions, high-achieving schools will have the opportunity to apply for regulation waivers.

“If a district has a better way of accomplishing achievement, they can propose to the Office of Public Instruction alternative methods of meeting the rules,” Brown said.

Juneau said waivers would be granted on a two-year basis. If a district continued to demonstrate good performance, the waiver could be renewed for three more years.

Brown used the Kalispell district’s elementary class sizes, which violate accreditation standards at the kindergarten through second-grade level, as an example.

“If our achievement levels are all above the state benchmark, we have a leeway of input numbers,” Brown said. “I know there were many of us who would have liked to have seen class size regulations come down in numbers — especially in the early elementary years — but we’re in an era where the building-level administration already has so many responsibilities and regulations to deal with on a building level.”

Another notable revision was made in bullying policies.

The proposed revision requires school policies to include comprehensive procedures for reporting, investigating and responding to bullying. Juneau said most schools have this in place, but this would set a minimum standard for districts that do not.

Juneau said there are no costs associated with implementing the standards.

The Board of Public Education is reviewing Juneau’s recommendations and a public hearing will be held in August. The Board of Public Education is scheduled to take action in September. If approved, school districts will have until July 2013 to comply.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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