Standardized test results released October 4 show that Montana middle school students are lagging in literacy and math.
This year’s scores show that around half of students grades 3 through 8 scored at or above proficiency in English language. That’s the equivalent of a C grade or above.
Meanwhile, the same students scored 41.85 percent proficiency in math.
According to numbers from the Office of Public Instruction, math proficiency rates for students in upper middle school were almost six percent worse than younger middle school students.
“If there is such a large disparity between a fifth grade math standard and an eighth grade math standard, and the scores are reflective of that, then the state needs to go back and look to see if the standards are achievable. If they’re not, then we need to redo those,” State Superintendent Elise Arntzen said.
Montana is one of 11 states using the federally-funded Smarter Balanced Assessment to measure middle school students’ progress.
Arntzen says there are a number of factors that affect standardized test scores, from learning disabilities to struggles at home. She says there are other ways to assess a student’s progress, like attendance and report cards.
Beth Graue, director for the Center for Early Childhood Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says balanced early childhood education may contribute to students’ success in middle school, although it’s one piece of a larger whole.
She says there's small but strong evidence that high quality preschool could change children’s educational trajectory.
“First, it’s contingent on high quality preschool and given the lack of infrastructure to support high quality preschool, we don’t have enough of it,” Graue said.
She says good preschool helps children with their emotional, social and educational progress.
“So, you need something that satisfies both the care and the education piece, and you need to have a program that pays the teachers enough money so they don’t have to get a second or third job to live,” Graue said.
She says the benefits of a preschool program won’t last long if students don’t have great teachers in first through third grade, too.
Proposed legislation to direct public funds into preschool failed in the Montana legislature this year.