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.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a 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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