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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

First Montana Common Core Test Results Are In

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau visited Heart Butte last week to kick off the Schools of Promise program. She talked with students, parents and school staff about what the million dollar grant means for the school.
Corin Cates-Carney
Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau visiting Heart Butte School in October.

The results are in for Montana’s new Common Core education assessment, Smarter Balanced.

In the schools that were tested, 38 percent of students scored proficient in math and 45 percent scored proficient in English.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau says these numbers shouldn’t be compared to proficiency results of the past because the education standards have changed.

"It's a new test based and new standards. Our exception that we would see a slight dip in what we are used to seeing because we are seeing higher, clearer more rigorous standards being implemented across the state. It will take a while to catch up.”

Students in grades three through eight, and high school juniors were scheduled to take the Smarter Balanced online test for the first time last spring.

But 18 percent of Montana’s schools were left out because the company that provides the test had technical glitches.

After the technical troubles were discovered in the test, school districts could choose whether to offer the Smarter Balanced test. So the data released Monday represents about 70 percent of possible student test takers in Montana.

But Superintendent Juneau says this data is still useful.

“We are going to use this as a baseline. Because that is what we have, we have the state aggregate. And school districts that tested all there students will have a baseline as well of how their students perform. Whether we put validity into these scores on a statewide level remains to be seen. But I thought it was important that we at least get these scores out there, given that we have them.”

Juneau says Montana’s results are similar to other states with new Common Core Standards tests and results will get better as teachers and students become familiar with the test.

Eric Feaver, president of the union representing public school employees says this year's testing data reflects more on the design of the test than the students being tested.

“Montana’s kids are still doing well and they will do better as we move through time if you are going to use standardized instruments  as your measurement stick. But I am one of those who thinks we should pay less attention to the test scores and more attention to the grades that teachers give and let the teachers show you what their kids know and are able to do.”

Superintendent Juneau seconded the importance of speaking with teachers to understand student progress, and said teachers could help gage student growth within Common Core standards.

State Representative Debra Lamm has written bills attempting to move Montana’s education standards away from Common Core.

“So, what is the value of it. We are spending millions of dollars on a test that isn't telling us anything. And the amount of testing hours, and I realize we are going to cut back some what in Montana. But the number of hours spent on testing is very very high. The downside is it's taking away from classroom instruction.”

Testing time is being cut this year. Superintendent Juneau announced today that high school juniors will no longer be required to take the annual Smarter Balanced assessment, and instead will take the ACT.

Juneau said testing time will shorten in all other grades because officials have decided to cut a Smarter Balanced classroom activity.

Juneau said the testing platform that had the glitches last spring will be changed for the tests this school year. Because of the botched job with testing, Montana’s Office of Public instruction reached an agreement with the company that creates Smarter Balanced that cuts the cost of the annual fee in half, about $375,000 dollars.

Montana’s 2016 Smarter Balanced testing begins at the end of March.

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