The gap is closing between Montana and the rest of the country on a national test — but not in a way that favors the Big Sky state.
Scores for Montana students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which is given every two years to a sample of students, dipped in all categories but one.
Tests in reading and math were taken by fourth- and eighth-graders in 2017. Results were released Tuesday.
The test is not linked to any accountability for schools or states. In Montana, 2,400 students were tested in each subject and grade level. The state enrolls about 146,000 students.
NAEP scores are not comparable to other standardized assessments that Montana uses, like Smarter Balanced tests, nor are they aligned to Montana's academic standards.
Montana's average math score dipped one point in eighth grade and held steady in fourth grade. National scores improved one point in eighth grade and decreased one point in fourth grade.
Montana's average reading scores dipped three points in both fourth and eighth grade. National scores held steady in fourth grade and increased one point in eighth grade.
Only Montana's eighth grade reading score changes were considered statistically significant. Montana was the only state to see a significant decrease for the grade and topic.
Montana's average score was still above the national average in each subject and grade level.
But an analysis of scores by the Brookings Institute that accounts for things that correlate with academic performance like race, economic status and special education status placed Montana in the bottom 10 states nationally for three categories.
Other experts questioned whether the use of computerized testing affected the results. 2017 was the first year the test used all online assessments.
A 2017 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that students with previous experience taking online tests did better on the NAEP tests than those with only paper-and-pencil experience. The study found only a correlation, not a causal relationship.
In general, education researchers use caution when linking NAEP results to specific policies.
“Montana’s national report card further confirms what we already know, that we can and must do more to prepare our students in reading and math,” said Montana superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen in a press release.