Eighth-grade test scores on par with world

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Teacher Karen Hutchinson talks with eighth-grade students, from left, David Knox, Tommy Mulcahy and Madi Littlefield, on Friday at Kalispell Middle School.

When it comes to math and science, Montana’s eighth-graders outperform many countries, according to a special report from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Traditionally, the National Assessment for Educational Progress test is taken for a state-to-state comparison of student achievement in a variety of subjects. It’s commonly referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card.”

The international report is a first-of-its-kind comparison of the academic performance of American eighth-graders in math and science on an international level.

Four countries scored higher than Montana in science. In math, seven countries and jurisdictions outscored the state.

The report linked math and science results from a 2011 National Assessment for Educational Progress test taken by U.S. eighth-graders with results from a 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study assessment taken by eighth-graders in 47 different countries and jurisdictions.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study average score was 500 in both math and science.

Montana’s science score was 551. Singapore had 590, Taiwan 564, South Korea 560 and Japan 558.

In math, Montana’s score was 531. South Korea was No. 1 at 613, followed by Singapore, 611; Taiwan, 609; Hong Kong, 586; Japan, 570; Russian Federation, 539 and Quebec, Canada, 532.

“In today’s economy, we know that our students are not only competing with students across the country, but with students across the globe,” Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Denise Juneau said. “This study is an important look at how our students are doing in science and math on a global scale.”

About 100 schools were randomly selected in Montana as representative of the demographic and geographic makeup of the state.

Kalispell Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Dan Zorn said the data from this report makes a strong case for education in America despite routine reports that U.S. schools lag behind their international counterparts. Only three states scored lower than the average in science and six states scored lower than the average in math. The country as a whole scored 525 in science and 509 in math.

“It’s a very common theme in reporting on the American public schools that we’re not keeping up internationally,” Zorn said. “Up until the last few years we haven’t had a whole lot of data that would compare individual states to international tests. We’re starting to see data that basically confirms what I’ve believed all along, that Montana schools — and many other states can make the same claim — that Montana schools are very competitive internationally.”

He noted that people should keep in mind that not all countries offer free, equal access to education for all children from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Although the linking study does not break down scores for individual districts, results from the state standardized Criterion Reference Test can show local success.

Zorn has been vocal about the positive statement the linking study makes for eighth-graders in the valley who outperform the state when looking at 2013 Criterion-Referenced Test data.

Fair-Mont-Egan, Whitefish, Somers, Bigfork, Columbia Falls and West Valley eighth-graders outperform the state in both math and science in the percentage of students who are at or above proficient.

Kalispell Middle School eighth-graders outperform the state in the percentage of students who are at or above proficient in science and have the same percentage as the state in math, according to the Office of Public Instruction.

Fair-Mont-Egan School Principal Christine Schmidt-Anthony attributes her school’s academic success to small class sizes, teacher quality and supporting students beyond state mandates.

“The largest class I go to is 23,” Schmidt-Anthony said.

Karen Hutchison, eighth-grade science teacher and science department head at Kalispell Middle School, said strong academic departments are key at the school.

“I think we have a strong science department that works together. We spend a lot of time looking at Montana state standards and making sure we align everything we do with those standards,” Hutchison said.

She also credits the Northwest Educational Cooperative for keeping schools on the same page when aligning curriculum among 22 districts throughout Northwest Montana.

Online:

To view the linking study, visit nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/naep_timss.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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