School standards criticized

Juneau responds to study slamming curriculum guides
2010-07-21T23:32:00Z School standards criticizedROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
July 21, 2010 11:32 pm  • 

A national study of Montana’s state curriculum standards for kindergarten through grade 12 released Wednesday gave the state an F grade for both its English and math curriculum standards.

Montana’s English language arts standards “are among the worst in the country,” the study’s three authors wrote.

Findings on Montana’s math standards were equally woeful.

“Montana’s standards are so sparse and poorly written as to supply very little of the essential content of mathematics. The almost complete lack of specific content … renders these standards of little use in guiding mathematics education.”

The study was conducted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based, nonprofit think tank that works to promote educational excellence.

Denise Juneau, state superintendent of schools, cried foul on the study’s findings.

“What this report does not do is (examine the state’s) Essential Learning Expectations,” she said Wednesday.

State standards are organized so that generalities appear first and then each grade is broken down into Essential Learning Expectations — the requirements expected of each grade level, she said.

By not looking at the state’s Essential Learning Expectations, the Fordham Institute missed examining almost all of Montana’s standards, she said.

Pointing again and again to the lack of specifics, the study roundly criticizes the state for the lack of direction it gives to school districts regarding what should be taught both for math and language arts competency.

“The state fails to provide any guidance about the quality or complexity of texts that students should read from grade to grade,” the study found with regards to language arts.

Juneau said specifics like that aren’t included because the Office of Public Instruction lists that material in its Essential Learning Expectations.

In fact, she said, Montana students on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests consistently score above the national average for reading skills — an average 225 score for Montana fourth-graders versus an average 221 score for fourth-graders nationwide. Eighth-graders scored equally well.

Math scores for Montana fourth- and eighth-graders also land above the national average, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress website.

“Our students generally score well,” Juneau said.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress does not show scores for high school graduates. However, a look at ACT college entrance exam scores shows Montana graduates land just above the national average there as well. Montana’s average is currently 21.2. The national average is 21.1.

The Fordham Institute’s study was designed to show how state curriculum standards compare to the national Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort by a majority of the states in the nation to adopt uniform curriculum standards.

Juneau said both she and Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed onto the Common Core State Standards Initiative last year.

“We’re open to this idea,” she said. “We’re not opposed to national standards.”

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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