Standardized test scores for high school juniors dipped last year, according to information released by the Office of Public Instruction.

Last spring was the fourth year that all Montana juniors have taken the ACT, a college-readiness standardized test, and it was the second year the test will be used to meet federal testing requirements for high schoolers.

Montana students averaged a score of 19.7, down from 20.0 last year. Scores are given on a 36-point scale.

Scores dipped across the board in reading, English, science and math. Writing scores for 2016-2017 were not reported.

ACT scores for Capital High School students went up slightly from 20.8 to 20.9. Scores at Helena High dipped from 20.9 to 20.6.

At least one of Montana's neighbors that also tests all juniors reported a drop; Wyoming's average score decreased from 20 last year to 19.7 this year.

Nationally, ACT scores were reported by graduating class, which isn't comparable to scores for juniors. The graduating class scores were not reported at a district or school level.

When Montana began offering the ACT to all juniors in 2014, the move was billed as a way to get more students to consider applying to college, as they'd have an entrance exam score in the bag. But after a glitchy first year of Smarter Balanced tests — which are taken by other grade levels to meet federal test requirements — then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau tagged in the ACT for juniors instead of Smarter Balanced.

The Montana Board of Public Instruction criticized how Juneau announced the move, but ultimately signed off on the change. Current Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen argued that scores reported for juniors taking the ACT under Juneau were “falsified” and out of compliance, but a subsequent report found no violation.

OPI has put together a panel to align Montana standards to the ACT, as the test and standards are currently not directly linked. A lack of alignment is a common federal criticism of states who use the ACT test for federal accountability.

Erin Loranger of the Independent Record contributed to this report. 

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Lee Newspapers state reporter Jayme Fraser emphasizes in investigative journalism and data reporting.

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