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Testing in Montana: An Overview

A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests

By GreatSchools Staff

Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2008-2009 Montana's testing system - the Montana Comprehensive Assessment System (MontCAS, pronounced "MONT-cass") - included the Criterion-Referenced Test and the Iowa Norm-Referenced Tests. The Criterion-Referenced Test (CRT) was administered in grades 3 through 8 and 10 to measure how well students are meeting the state's grade-level expectations in reading and math. The Iowa tests were used in grades 4, 8 and 11 to compare the performance of students to their peers nationwide. Students took the Iowa tests in reading, language arts, math, social studies and science.

How are the tests scored?

CRT results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in the subject areas tested. Students are rated at one of four levels: novice, nearing proficienct, proficient and advanced. The goal is for all students to score at or above the proficient level.

The Iowa tests measure performance through a percentile based on the scores of all students of the same grade level in the nation. All students receive a percentile rank, which indicates how well they performed in comparison to peers in other states. If the number is 45, for example, students scored as well or better than 45% of students who took the test across the country. The national average for all schools is 50. The state's goal is for all students to score at or above the national average.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

Only the CRT scores are included on GreatSchools profiles. For each subject, the combined percentage of students scoring at and above the proficient level is displayed.

Why do the tests matter?

CRT scores provide an indication of whether students are making progress toward mastery of state content standards. Montana currently does not require that students score at a particular level on the test to be promoted or to graduate from high school.

It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessment and the overall score for his school. If your child scores below the standards, contact his teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home.

If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you can do to help. If your child is in a failing school, ask what your options are for obtaining supplemental services or for transferring to a higher-performing school.

A few parting words

Although test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, they don't tell you everything about the quality of a particular school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final assessment.

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