Student data shows Madison County schools in good shape
MADISON COUNTY—The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its KIDS COUNT Data Book for 2018 on Wednesday, June 27. The data book breaks down national numbers and ranks all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico on a variety of criteria to result in rankings for four categories: economic well-being, education, health and family and community well-being.
In the education category, local schools far outperformed the statewide numbers. Sheridan, Twin Bridges and Ennis districts all had proficiency rates considerably higher than Montana’s overall rankings, in a year when the state dropped three spots from last year in the nation’s overall education ranking, from 17th to 20th.
The Casey Foundation was established in 1948 in Baltimore and is a private philanthropy that uses research to evaluate the status of children in the United States and identify problem areas across those four categories. The foundation then makes grants to help agencies and cities create responses to problems like poverty, poor access to health insurance and good education and lower access to employment opportunities for parents. Montana was ranked 23rd overall in the data book, which is a three-spot jump from where it ranked in 2017. Montana’s highest rating of the four major categories came in the family and community sector, where it was ranked 10th in the nation.
The area of education is the one in which the Madison Valley outperforms the state average most considerably. Montana ranked 20th among the states for education well-being; the criteria for that ranking was based off elementary school students’ proficiency in reading and language, middle school students’ proficiency in math, and overall graduation rates.
Smaller student body numbers in the schools of the Madison and Ruby valleys means that student accountability is much higher, and that its harder for students to fall through the cracks. It should come as little surprise, then, that on-time graduation rates, which statewide are around 84 percent, are closer to 90 percent in Ennis School District and 96 percent in Twin Bridges. Those rates fall nearly 10 percent higher than larger schools in the state, such as Bozeman High School (85 percent) and Missoula’s Big Sky High School (83 percent).
Student proficiency in the Madison school districts is where the most marked differences fall between the state of Montana’s averages and local numbers. The KIDS COUNT data book looks specifically at fourth-grade proficiency in reading and eighth-grade proficiency in math. Those numbers for the state are 62 percent and 63 percent, respectively, meaning that only 38 percent and 37 percent of those students are performing at or above a proficient level in those subjects.
The local rates of proficiency are much more encouraging. Fourth graders in Ennis, Sheridan and Twin Bridges districts have under-proficiency levels of 42 percent, 48 percent and 29 percent, respectively. On the eighth-grade math scale, Ennis is split 50/50 in terms of proficient students, Sheridan has a 44 percent under-proficiency rate, and Twin Bridges just over half.
These higher rates of proficiency aren’t surprising at all, says Ennis superintendent Casey Klasna. He says the communities in the Madison Valley and the faculty in the area mean that student success is always the number one goal. That’s just another embodiment of why Montana ranked so high on the family and community spectrum of the KIDS COUNT data collection.
“Our kids get more opportunities than most schools due to community support for our schools,” Klasna says. “Our levies pass fairly easily, which brings in revenue to fund programs for kids and teachers.” He also credits community organizations like the Lions’ Club and Womens’ Club for their donations of time, money and support of students, and credits the desirability of the Madison Valley as a home as a draw for excellent teachers, most of whom have master’s degrees in education or teaching.
“Our faculty is strong and goes above and beyond for our kids,” Klasna says. “They are classified, certified and dedicated, and are always seeking additional development opportunities.”
Family and Community
Statewide, many of the criteria have shown at least small improvements over the last year, most significantly in the category of family and community. In two of the key measurements in that category, Montana is one of the top two states in the entire country.
Compared to last year’s numbers, the number of Montana children living in single-parent families has fallen by about 5,000, from 28 percent of children to 25 percent. This measure is second only to Utah, where the same rate is only 19 percent. Nationally, around 35 percent of children live in single-parent households.
The number of children in families where the head of household doesn’t have a high school diploma also fell considerably, from 9 percent to 5 percent. Montana was tied for the top spot in that category, with the same rate as Wyoming, New Hampshire and Maine.
By far Montana’s lowest ranking came in the health category, where it claimed the 46th spot. It’s one higher than 2017’s ranking, but two of the metrics the Casey Foundation uses to measure health well-being of children hurt the state’s rankings.
In 2017, the foundation reported, Montana had the nation’s highest child and teenage death rate, at 103 in 100,000. The majority of those deaths occur as a result of unintentional injuries, most of those involving car crashes. The second cause of those unintentional deaths was drowning. Montana climbed slightly from the bottom this year, moving up to 47th, the rate of childhood death falling from 103 in 100,000 to 96.
Each state has its own KIDS COUNT representative facility in addition to the national body, and Montana’s is located at the University of Montana in Missoula. The state bodies publish more exact state-specific data, and Montana’s state data shows that while it still fares poorly among the states in terms of childhood deaths, it is also seeing a steady downward trend. Total deaths of children under 18 years old has dropped nearly 40 percent since 2000, and car crashes with drivers under 18 have dropped nearly 70 percent.
But, another metric that hurt Montana’s childhood health rating this year is a known problem in the state: the number of children and teenagers abusing drugs and alcohol. While the state’s 6 percent measurement in this category didn’t change from 2017 to 2018, much of the nation did, leaving Montana behind.
The full KIDS COUNT Data Book can be accessed online via the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s website. The Montana state data book, which published county-specific data on everything from birth rates to youth court statistics, can be found at montanakidscount.org.