Montana education ‘report card’ shows test results slipping after COVID impact

HELENA – The Montana Office of Public Instruction has released its annual “School Report Card” – highlighting student assessment data at the state, district and school level, as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. This is the first time they have shared the results of student tests taken after the COVID pandemic began.

The data, from the 2020-2021 school year, shows that 46 percent of students in Montana scored “proficient” or “advanced” in reading. 34% mastered at least mathematics and 25% mastered at least science.

These figures are lower than those of the 2018-2019 school year, where 50% were proficient or better in reading, 41% in mathematics and 61% in science. The federal government waived testing requirements in 2019-20 due to COVID, but this waiver has not continued.

Data in the report card is based on the Smarter Balanced assessment for students between third and eighth grades and the ACT for high school juniors.

In a statement, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen said the pandemic has clearly impacted scores.

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“A federally mandated one-size-fits-all test does not reflect success in student learning, because every student, every teacher, and every community in Montana has been affected by COVID-19 and these test scores reflect that,” she said. “We have work!”

Helena Public Schools leaders echoed this. Kaitlyn Hess, the district’s data and assessment coordinator, said the 2020-21 school year — when students were split between online and in-person classes in a “hybrid” learning plan — didn’t was hardly a normal educational environment for their students. She said she was not surprised to see this reflected in the report card.

“We put structures in place – a pedagogical framework that talked about the blended learning environment for all grades – so that teachers could try to cover as many essential standards as possible and follow as many curricula as possible, but we knew with the anomaly in the schedule that we weren’t going to be able to cover as much ground as we traditionally do,” Hess said.

Helena’s assessment data shows similar or slightly higher proficiency numbers than the state as a whole. In the 2020-2021 school year, the report card shows that 51% of Helena Elementary students were fluent or better in reading and 34% in math. This compares to 56% proficiency in reading and 48% in math in the 2018-19 school year.

At the elementary level, only fifth and eighth graders take a science assessment. Hess said the state did not release those results because 2020-21 was a pilot year for a new testing program.

For secondary students at Helena Schools, 54% were proficient in at least reading and 34% were in math, up from 57% and 40%, respectively, two years earlier. 35% were proficient or better in science, up from 60% in 2018-19.

Hess said he saw clear differences in how students were assigned in each subject.

“With reading, students can achieve many reading outcomes outside of school – whether it’s reading in their spare time, whether it’s parents reading to them – and that reading comprehension, although it may be slower to increase, they can still practice with it,” she says. “Mathematics needs more explicit instruction, and students didn’t get as much of that direct instruction last year as they did. they would have done it in previous years.”

She said it made sense that science scores were particularly affected.

“Our science scores in high school reflect the fact that students can’t do as many labs,” she said. “That hands-on experience is crucial to understanding science concepts, they can’t do them at home, you can’t sit next to your lab partners and work with people.”

Hess said that, overall, they are happy with how their students have fared under difficult circumstances.

“There’s room for improvement no doubt, but we’ve put systems and structures in place this year that allow us to try and close those gaps and catch up with students faster,” she said. declared.

The district does its own assessments several times a year, and Hess said those results leave them optimistic they’re back on track.

“Our winter benchmark scores put us on par with where we were before the pandemic, or even above national standards,” she said. “These results are incredibly promising for us.”

You can find links to state, district and county data on the website of the Office of Public Instruction.

Schools are expected to conduct their statewide assessments for this year in April and May, and the results of those assessments will be released around this time next year.

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