Like much of the United States, Montana students lost a great deal of proficiency in math and reading skills during the two years that COVID-19 caused disruptions in education with online learning and school closures.

We reached out to Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen for the scores that had been embargoed until Monday.

Starting with reading scores, only 46 percent of students tested were proficient in reading skills, which means 54 percent of students were not proficient. Arntzen explained the numbers.

“We have this year in reading at 46.1 percent, meaning they got a C or better in third grade through eighth grade or in 11th grade,” said Arntzen. “Now that isn't the best by any means. We can always do better. But what that does mean though, if I refer this to last year when we were still in the midst of COVID, we were at 46.4. So we did go down a little bit in reading, but we maintained and I think that's really important, especially with all the quarantining and the ins and outs that everyone had with this virus.”

However, it was math proficiency (or lack thereof) that caused Arntzen and her staff the most concern after the test scores were released.

“Last year it was at 35.6 percent getting a C or better in a math class given by the statewide assessment at the end of the year,” she said. However, this year was 36.4 percent, so it did go up about point eight percent. I can say it maintained.”

With only 35 percent of Montana students in third through eighth grades being proficient in math, that means 65 percent of Montana students in those grades are not proficient in math.

Arntzen was particularly distressed over the sheer number of eighth graders who tested out as novice (meaning with hardly any understanding at all) in mathematics.

“If you look at eighth grade, it has been a pivotal year,” she said. “I have 70 percent of our students that are either novice, meaning not understanding at all, or looking to see exactly what it could be to be starting to be proficient. That’s not even a C yet. 70 percent of our eighth graders in math don't even recognize math skills.”

Arntzen said one of the strategies she has been using is getting rid of teaching methods that have been unproductive in the past.

“Math hasn't changed for over 10 decades, but how we teach it has, so we're removing the last remnants of Common Core,” she said. “We're removing all the stigma dealing with algebra and math and having it being understood that it really is as simple as one plus one equals two.”

Click here to see the test scores for Montana students.

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