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Libby students performed well on standardized tests

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | November 30, 2021 7:00 AM

South Lincoln County public school students saw success in standardized testing last spring, overcoming coronavirus-related academic hurdles and long-standing socio-economic challenges.

Numbers released by the state Office of Public Instruction earlier this month revealed that students with Libby Public Schools performed better than the state average on three out of five testing categories. The test scores regularly placed the district above other large Class A schools.

In the math component of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, a test for third to eighth graders, just over 42.12 percent of students scored advanced or proficient. The state average for this metric was 35.57 percent.

For the English language arts portion of the assessment, 50.88 percent of Libby students scored proficient or advanced. Across the state, only 46.39 percent of students reached this standard. Troy Public Schools demonstrated slightly higher proficiency than Libby schools in this metric with 52.38 percent of students scoring advanced or proficient.

Juniors at Libby High School trailed the state average on two out of three American College Testing (ACT) categories and scored higher in one. Libby Superintendent Ron Goodman said the district has struggled with the ACT but that test scores are rising despite academic setbacks during the pandemic.

In ACT Science, 25.8 percent of Libby juniors scored advanced or proficient compared to 28.3 percent of juniors across the state. For the math portion of the assessment, 27.4 percent of Libby juniors cleared proficiency compared to 26.9 percent of juniors across the state. In English language arts, 38.7 percent of Libby students were considered proficient or advanced compared to 45 percent of students on the state level.

Pointing to time, curriculum and instruction as the three most important factors in a student’s education, Libby Superintendent Ron Goodman said the district’s efforts to keep classrooms open during the pandemic paid off in the test results.

While schools across the country switched entirely to remote learning last year, Goodman said Libby students only lost an hour of in-person instruction every day.

“There are a lot of schools across the nation that weren’t open,” he said. “There were a lot of schools in the state that did every other day. In hindsight, I wish we would have just had school, but we weren’t in the position to do that.”

Over the past calendar year, the district had to suspend in-person instruction twice at the Libby Middle High School and Libby Elementary School. The classroom closures in November and October of 2020 came after school officials saw coronavirus cases rise among students and staff.

Along with the challenges of holding classes during the pandemic, Libby Public Schools continues to face historic hurdles that in some cases put it at a disadvantage to other Class A districts in the state.

Goodman noted that compared to cities like Whitefish, which can draw on substantial property taxes from businesses like Grouse Mountain, Libby has a relatively small tax base.

“That whole value of the mill levy is so much less,” he said.

Lincoln County also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. In October, the county had the fifth-highest unemployment rate at 3.1 percent.

Despite the challenges, Libby students performed better than students from Columbia Falls, Hamilton and Frenchtown in some metrics.

“In education, poverty usually rules, meaning the higher the poverty, the lower the test scores,” said Goodman. “We have high poverty, but also have high test scores so this is a very good thing.”