Broad disparity of test results in Montana public schools

Posted at 5:37 PM, Dec 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-22 18:37:27-05

The first round of testing under Common Core standards are incomplete and just a baseline, state education officials say – but in a few Montana schools, 100 percent of their students still managed to score “proficient” or better for math and English/language arts.

At the same time, some schools also had incredibly low percentage of children at proficient or better – some as low as 1 percent.

Schools with the highest percentage of students doing well on the test, which was taken this spring, tended to have small enrollment, usually a dozen students or fewer.

As for big-city high schools in Montana, most that tested their students scored better than the state average of 38 percent proficient or better for math, and 45 percent for English/language arts.

MTN News took a closer look at the school-specific data, released Monday by state Superintendent of Schools Denise Juneau.

For English and language arts, 11 schools had 100 percent of their students at proficient or better; for math, seven schools achieved the 100 percent.

Schools scoring 100 percent for English and language arts include Highwood High School, Winnett High School, Lone Peak High School in Big Sky, Springhill School, Elliston School, Hobson High School, Cohagen School and Cottonwood School near Bozeman.

Each of those schools had six to 11 students. Three other schools scored 100 percent for English/language arts, but had five kids or fewer, so they weren’t identified, to protect the privacy of the students. 

Only one school with more than five kids scored 100 percent proficiency for math: Cottonwood, near Bozeman, with its nine students. Six other schools with five kids or fewer had 100 percent of their kids proficient or better in math.

Not all schools administered the online tests, which had some technical glitches in their first year. Also, some schools tested only some of their students.

Juneau said the state had scores for only 55,000 out of the 76,000 students in the grades tested: Three through eight, and 11. About 64,000 students took the tests, but results for about 9,000 of those students were somehow lost, when data were transferred to the state’s testing contractor, she said.

Here’s what the results looked like for 11th graders at the state’s big-city high schools:

Senior, 32 percent of students proficient or better in math; 37 percent in English/language arts.
Skyview, 30 percent in math; 36 percent English/language arts.
West, 41 percent in math; 57 percent English/language arts.

Great Falls:
C.M. Russell, 45 percent of students proficient or better in math; 69 percent in English/language arts.
Great Falls High, 30 percent in math; 61 percent in English/language arts.

Flathead High, 49 percent of students proficient or better in math; 77 percent in English/language arts.
Glacier, 43 percent in math; 58 percent in English/language arts.

Big Sky, 34 percent of students proficient or better in math; no testing for English/language arts.
Hellgate, 40 percent in math; 59 percent in English/language arts.
Sentinel, 43 percent in math; 66 percent in English/language arts.

High schools in Bozeman, Butte and Helena did not test their students.

Those with the lowest percentage of students at proficient or better tended to be on or near Indian reservations. 

“We know an achievement and opportunity gap exists in reservation schools and high-poverty schools,” Juneau said. “That’s why Schools of Promise and Graduation Matters Montana is such important work.”

Schools of Promise is a program targeting help for a few low-performing schools, often including training for teachers, administrators, school board members and parents. Graduation Matters Montana is aimed at encouraging kids to stay in high school and graduate.

The tests rate students as “novice,” “nearly proficient,” “proficient” or “advanced in math and English/language arts. 

Results for all schools can be found here (spreadsheet).

Schools with asterisks on the table either didn’t test or had fewer than six kids, and therefore the results are not public.