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Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau speaks to the crowd at Sentinel High School after Juneau released her Graduation and Dropout Report Wednesday. Sentinel High School boasts a 92 percent graduation rate, the highest of all Montana AA schools.

HAMILTON – The Montana Office of Public Instruction on Thursday responded to comments made by U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke this week about a drop in Montana students’ test scores. 

While in Hamilton on Monday, Zinke, R-Mont., told the Ravalli Republic “that while Montana has improved its graduation rate, the test scores are down by 30 percent.”

Emilie Ritter Saunders, communications director for OPI, said Montana students last year took “a brand-new test aligned to more-rigorous standards in math and English/language arts.”

“Montana still operates under the broken federal education law known as No Child Left Behind – it’s that federal law that requires Montana to test students,” Ritter Saunders said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, a Democrat who is running for Zinke’s seat in the House, said she advocates moving away from high-stakes testing.

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“I have cut testing time for all students, and Montana is in the process of developing an accountability system that will work for our schools and students,” Juneau said. "Montana schools are raising expectations and I know our students will rise to the challenge.”

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Public high school juniors will not be required to take the Smarter Balanced test this spring and instead will take the ACT for federal accountability purposes.

“Montana’s historically high graduation rate of 86 percent will provide a multimillion-dollar boost to the state’s economy,” Ritter Saunders added.

“More high school graduates means higher wages and more opportunities for Montana’s young people,” Ritter Saunders said. “When Montana kids succeed, we all benefit.”

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