Terrible, Terrible, Terrible Story in the IR About Education Today


With the sensationalistic headline “Schools Receive Low Marks,” I expected the Independent Record to present some solid data about low achievement in Helena or Montana schools. The story, and the truth, show the exact opposite: Montana student are doing well. From the piece:

In the NAEP test, in which Montana students excelled, each grade was tested early last year. Fourth-graders scored an average of 160 compared to the national average of 149; eighth-graders scored 162 with a national average also of 149.
The NAEP results also show low-income students in Montana scored at or above the national average by 15 points for fourth grade and 18 points higher in eighth.

So far, so good. Montana students perform quite well according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, one of the best ways to compare the states against each other, because the test is uniform, unlike the tests given to measure Annual Yearly Progress.

But then the story wanders off into the woods of the factually challenged—and never seems to get out. After noting the success of Montana students, the reporter ominously writes:

But the other tests say differently.

And then the story never talks about another measurement of student achievement—you know, a test. Instead, it cites two think tanks who measure things like pre-school participation and teacher evaluations, the latter part of an agenda to privatize schools and eliminate requirements to become certified as teachers.  In fact, the Quality Counts report the article mentions says that Montana students rank 4th in eighth grade math, 8th in eighth grade reading, and 9th in “math excellence.” That all sounds pretty good to me, though there is certainly room for improvement.

There’s are no tests presented that document poor results from Montana students.

Why? Because that data doesn’t exist. Montana students perform very well when compared to students from other states. Just because some ideologues want to impose their vision of student and teacher readiness on Montana hardly suggests that Montana schools receive “low marks.”

Look, I’m a critic of poor educational practice. There’s a lot that can be done to make our schools more effective at instructing all students. Those decisions and community conversations, however, need to be informed by good data. This story is anything but, and it’s especially dangerous when the Legislature is in town making decisions about our schools and their budgets.

The IR should offer a correction—and an apology.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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I agree mostly with your post Don. However, (as you very well know) a headline “Schools Recieve High Marks” would help garner no support from the public to bash Republicans when they want to reduce the school budget. Like today:
“Senate panel cuts $4 million in proposed school funding” …
You are a smart man and know how they work by now, fau outrage IMO.

Sigrid Burdette

Great article, I surprisingly had a good time glossing over it, keep doing the good writing.

Kami Rhyner

You made some clear points there. I did a search on the subject and found most people will consent with your site.

Broderick Boyington

Great article, I genuinely enjoyed studying it, keep up the hard thoughts.

Garth Cantlow

Great article, I genuinely had a good time glossing over it, keep doing all the hard thoughts.

Christi Eustis

Enjoyable page, I genuinely enjoyed studying it, keep up the hard thoughts.

construction estimating software

Great blog, thanks for it!

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