Savannah Martin

Savannah Martin and other juniors at West High School take the ACT test in April 2014.

CASEY PAGE/Gazette Staff

Montana education officials announced that ACT scores inched up for juniors who took the test last year, the first year it's being used to meet federal testing requirements.

Statewide, juniors averaged a composite score of 20, up from 19.9 last year. Last year's scores were reported by the ACT as 20.4, but the state adjusted scores to make them comparable to this year's test.

At both of Helena's high schools, students averaged a composite score of 21 this year. 

“Looking at the scores, we’re absolutely ecstatic about the efforts by our teachers in helping our students be prepared to be college- and career-ready,” said Helena Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Greg Upham. “We are outperforming the state.”

Upham said he has not yet had time to take an in-depth look at the data. 

About 9,300 students statewide took the test this spring, but 8,842 students' scores were reported to the feds. A similar filter was applied to last year's scores, excluding students enrolled less than one-quarter time, foreign exchange students and students not enrolled for the full academic year at the school where the test was taken.

Adjusted composite scores averaged 20.0 in 2013-14 and 20.1 in 2012-13. Testing was expanded to all students in the 2013-14 school year, in part to get more students thinking about college as a possibility. Testing numbers hovered above 6,000 students in the early 2000s before exploding above 9,000 when testing expanded.

Last year, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau announced that the ACT would replace Smarter Balanced tests for federal accountability purposes in high school, reducing overall testing time. The Board of Public Education backed up her decision.

“More Montana students are taking the ACT than ever before, giving those students more opportunities when they graduate,” she said in an emailed release. “Not only can Montana boast record-high graduation rates, but we know students are better prepared than ever to take on the new economy and build a bright future.”

At Capital High School, students averaged 21.1 in math, 19.7 in English, 21.6 in reading, 21 in science and 20.9 in writing. 

At Helena High School, students averaged 21.2 in math, 19.4 in English, 21.8 in reading, 21 in science and 20.4 in writing. 

Statewide, students averaged 20.1 in math, 18.6 in English, 20.8 in reading and 20.3 in science. Reading scores were up 0.5 from last year, while other changes were small.

Last year, Montana scored well compared to other states that had all juniors take the test. However, this year's scores aren't easily comparable because of the federal reporting adjustment.

The Independent Record contributed to this report. 

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