Montana OPI holds "roadshow" on new state testing system for schools

OPI MAST Roadshow
OPI MAST Roadshow
OPI MAST Roadshow
Posted at 5:24 PM, Apr 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-03 19:24:02-04

GREAT FALLS — Almost two years ago, the Montana Office of Public Instruction announced a pilot program to try out a new student testing model. Since then, a limited number of school districts have been using the new MAST system – but that’s going to change in the 2024-25 school year, when it rolls out statewide.

Now, OPI and its assessment partner New Meridian is going on the road across Montana, to talk to educators about what’s next and get their feedback. They began their “roadshow” tour Tuesday in Belgrade, then continued it Wednesday in Great Falls.

MAST originally stood for Montana Alternative Student Testing, but as it’s set to become the state’s main assessment tool this year, leaders have renamed it Montana Aligned to Standards Through-Year. It’s based on “testlets” – multiple small assessments that students will take throughout the year, instead of one large year-end assessment.

This year, more than 20,000 third- to eighth-grade students took MAST tests instead of the Smarter Balanced assessment – about 30 percent of Montana’s students in that age range. In 2024-25, MAST will fully replace Smarter Balanced across the state.

“We are so thankful that so many schools have been willing to participate in this pilot process to make sure that this assessment is right sized for Montana and the use that you have in the state here,” said Amanda Pepmiller, New Meridian’s director of state engagement. “Next year we're going to be providing them with a whole host of information that they'll be able to use on the fly with students – to change, really, the way that they're making sure that students have what they need to be successful.”

OPI MAST Roadshow
A graphic from the Montana Office of Public Instruction highlights the design of the new MAST student testing model.

One of the main goals for MAST is to give teachers more specific data faster, so they can identify areas where students may need additional help and respond quickly. Another is to put less stress on students than they would experience from one big traditional test at the end of the year.

“That is the hope – that it's not a big production as our state test has been in the past – that it's just part of the instruction, something that happens at the end of a unit,” said Rachel Cutler, elementary curriculum coordinator for Great Falls Public Schools – one of the districts participating in the pilot program this year. “Initially, in our very first round, students were saying this was a lot easier than SBAC because of the shorter time, and so we are hoping that that will reduce student anxiety.”

Cutler said they’ve heard excitement about the possibilities of MAST – though right now, there’s also a feeling that there’s a lot of testing going on, between MAST and other assessments. She said she came to the roadshow Wednesday hoping to hear more about how teachers can use testlet data without having to compile it themselves.

“It sounds like that's coming, so that's exciting,” she said.

OPI MAST Roadshow
Amanda Pepmiller, with New Meridian, speaks to educators Wednesday at a "roadshow" in Great Falls discussing the statewide rollout of the new MAST student testing model.

Pepmiller said leaders have already made tweaks to MAST to account for what they’ve heard from participating schools.

“We got a lot of feedback after the first couple of administrations that some of the testlets were running a little longer than we anticipated,” she said. “And so our teams went in, in between admins, dropped everything else that they were doing, to make sure that we could adjust that to meet the needs of teachers moving forward.”

She said they’re hoping to get more input during this tour.

“We really are looking for Montana educators and administrators to tell us what they need to do their job,” she said. “No one knows better than them what they need to help students.”

Over the next week and a half, the roadshow will continue with meetings in Frenchtown, Kalispell, Lewistown, Havre, Wolf Point, Miles City and Lockwood. OPI asks that anyone wanting to attend register here.