Published: January 6, 2005
Standards and Accountability: Montana receives the fourth-lowest grade among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for its standards and accountability system. That’s because it lacks some of the critical elements of a strong system: clear and specific standards in all core academic subjects, and a means of holding schools responsible for results.
While Montana has adopted content standards in English, mathematics, science, and social studies/history, only the science standards at the middle and high school levels have been rated clear and specific by the American Federation of Teachers. Montana has tests aligned with its standards in English and math in all grade spans.
Montana has two accountability measures in place related to requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Recently introduced school report cards include test data.
The state also rates schools based, in part, on their performance on state tests.
But the state does not provide help or sanctions for both Title I and non-Title I schools consistently rated as low-performing or failing.
Also, the state has no system for rewarding high-performing or improving schools.
Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Montana requires its high school teachers to have majors and minors in the subjects they plan to teach, essentially requiring endorsements in two content areas.
But as in a number of other states with similar structures, middle school teachers who hold licenses for grades K-8 (instead of the state’s secondary license) do not have to complete a minimum amount of subject-area coursework.
Moreover, Montana is one of only six states that do not require any prospective teachers to pass licensure exams; the lack of such exams lowers its grade.
In addition, the state does not use performance-based assessments, such as local-team evaluations or portfolios, to help determine whether teachers should earn a more advanced license.
Montana also does not finance and require mentoring for its new teachers.
On the positive side, the state regulates an alternative pathway into teaching that requires participants to complete 30 semester credits for a subject-area endorsement before entering their own classrooms.
In addition, another alternative route, financed through a federal Transition to Teaching grant, serves to place teachers in high-need schools in Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming. The state also reports teacher-qualification data on its No Child Left Behind school report cards.
School Climate: Montana is one of 10 states without charter school laws, but it does have a statewide open-enrollment policy.
Indicators of parent involvement from the National Assessment of Educational Progress background survey help the state’s grade, but the state is below the national average on measures of school safety.
Montana boasts a low average class size of 18.2 students in its elementary schools, according to data from the federal 2000 Schools and Staffing Survey.
And, in a reflection of the state’s rural character, Montana has a higher percentage of students in small elementary, middle, and high schools than most other states do.
Montana does not include information on school safety, class size, or parent involvement on school report cards, causing its grade to fall.
Equity: Montana receives the fifth-worst grade of the 50 states on resource equity. The state has the second-highest coefficient of variation, which indicates a wide diversity in spending across districts.
Montana also has a positive wealth-neutrality score, meaning that, on average, wealthy districts in the state have more state and local revenue for education than do property-poor districts. The state’s wealth-neutrality score shows a moderate relationship between property wealth and resources.
Spending: For the 2001-02 school year, Montana spent $7,772 per pupil, or a little above the national per-pupil average of $7,734. The state is well above the national average for total taxable resources spent on education, at 4.5 percent.
But the state does not do well on the spending index. Montana ranks 42nd out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia on that index, which looks at the number of students who are in districts spending at least the national average, and how low the per-pupil spending is for students in districts spending below the national average.
About one-fourth of students in the state attend schools in districts that spend at or above the national average.
Vol. 24, Issue 17, Page 123