Death of a classmate likely hurt test scores, school says

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Columbia Falls juniors were below other Flathead County schools in state performance standards last year, but school superintendent Steve Bradshaw notes that the death of a student just before the test probably played a role in the low scores.

According to figures released by the state Office of Public Instruction last week, just 19.7 percent of male students in 11th grade met or exceeded the state standards for math and 33.3 percent of males met or exceeded the standard for English Language Arts.

Girls did better, with 29.51 percent meeting the math standards and 55.74 meeting the English standard.

The standards are based on how well the students did on the ACT test, which is the nation’s most popular college entrance exam.

In the 2104-15 school year, the state mandated that all 11th graders take the exam.

But Bradshaw noted that Paxton Fisher, a popular student at the school, died of cancer the day before the test was given.

“It definitely had an impact on the student population,” he said. “We had a down year, no doubt about it.”

He noted that the previous year, the student body was over 50 percent proficient in English and about 33 percent proficient in math and on average, Columbia Falls students had a 19.7 overall ACT score, while the state average was 20.

The highest possible score on the ACT is a 36.

Other Flathead Valley schools did better on the tests last year. In Whitefish, for example, 57.45 percent of male students met or exceeded the state standard in math, while 40.74 percent of females did. In Bigfork, 56.67 of males met the standards for math, while 34.48 percent of females did. At Glacier 36.59 percent of males met the math standard, while 34.71 females did. Flathead had similar numbers, with males at 37.64 percent and females at 29.63 percent.

In English, Whitefish males were 51.06 percent, females were 59.26. At Bigfork, males were 63.33 percent while females 72.41 — the best of any of the major schools in the county.

In English, Glacier was 50.61 percent for males, while females were 66.94 percent. Flathead was 58.29 percent for males, 66.67 for females.

The standardized tests don’t paint an entire picture however. Columbia Falls has a higher graduation rate — 88 percent to Whitefish’s 87 percent and Bigfork’s 82 percent. Glacier and Flathead have a graduation rate of 87 and 86 percent respectively.

About 33 percent of Columbia Falls student body is considered economically disadvantaged, but Bigfork’s is actually the highest, at 40 percent.

Also, a student has to be motivated to take the test. If a student isn’t planning on going to a college right out of high school, they’re not likely to be as motivated to take the ACT as a student that is planning on college, noted curriculum director Dot Wood.

A good score on the test certainly helps with college. At Montana State University, a high school student has to either have a 2.5 grade point average or a 22 score on the ACT to meet the minimum entrance requirements. At the University of Montana, the requirements are the same. Both schools require taking the ACT or alternatively, the SAT for freshmen undergraduates.

Wood noted that a student that scores a 22 or higher on the math portion of the test has a 50 percent chance or better of getting a B or higher in college math courses and a 75 percent chance of better of getting a C.

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