How Does GFPS Stack Up?


Is the Great Falls Public School District on the right path or the wrong path?

E-City Beat’s dialogue, and yes criticism, about the way the Great Falls Public School District operates has brought out two distinct camps of thought; one that has serious doubts about the managerial skills exhibited by the district’s administration, and the other being the ardent supporters of the district’s actions. Who is right, and who is wrong, and can we measure the successes, or failures when it comes to our children’s education?

According to a recent U.S. News and World Report article, “Best High Schools Ranking”, 2018, Montana High Schools, Great Falls High School and CMR High School didn’t make the top twelve and both were unranked.

Here is the criteria used by U.S. News and World Report to rank high schools in Montana, and all states:

“* STEP 1 | Students exceeded expectations in their states.

We looked at whether each school’s relative performance in its state reading and mathematics assessments exceeded expectations, factoring in the proportion of its student body that is economically disadvantaged and projected to score lower.

* STEP 2 | Underserved students performed better than the state average.

Next, we compared each school’s reading and mathematics assessment scores among only their historically underserved students – black, Hispanic and low-income – with the average statewide results for these subgroups. We selected schools that outperformed their state averages.

* STEP 3 | Student graduation rates met a threshold.

We excluded schools from consideration if their graduation rates were lower than 80 percent.

* STEP 4 | Students were prepared for college-level coursework.

For schools passing the first three steps, we calculated a College Readiness Index based on the percentages of each school’s students who took and passed AP and IB exams. Tiebreakers determined the ranks of schools achieving the same CRI.”

The number one ranked high school in Montana is Gardiner High School which has a graduation rate of 86 percent and a college readiness of 52.5. In comparison, Great Falls High School has a graduation rate of 82 percent and a college readiness score of 13.3. CMR High School has a graduation rate of 85 percent and a college readiness score of 13.6.

The number two ranked high school in Montana is Bozeman High School with a college readiness score of 47.2. Number three is Sentinel High School with a 91 percent graduation rate and a college readiness score of 47.7. These are followed by Helena High School, Whitefish High School, Baker High School, and so on.

The number 11th ranked high school in Montana is Polson High School with a graduation rate of 87 percent and a college readiness score of 16.3.

The dismal truth behind the Great Falls graduation rate is that 18% of GFHS and 15% of CMR students don’t graduate from high school. And that doesn’t count the students who have been transferred to the Paris Gibson alternative school, as I explain below.

Enough said about high school rankings, let’s take a closer look at graduation rates. A 2015 article in nprED addresses some of the issues surrounding graduation rates.

Graduation rates are a hot button for taxpayers who are paying the freight for our public schools and school districts are well aware of that fact. The article explores how some school districts are cooking the books when it come to graduation rates.

“Some are mislabeling students or finding ways of moving them off the books. In Chicago, reports Becky Vevea of WBEZ, ‘the district is misclassifying hundreds of students who enroll in its alternative schools.’

That designation means that when a Chicago student leaves a traditional high school for an alternative school, the district doesn’t have to count that student as a dropout. But if the student manages to earn a diploma, the district still gets credit.”

Believe it or not, this is the practice of Great Falls Public Schools. So we have to ask whether the District is cooking the books to make the numbers look better than they actually are?

And then there is “Credit Recovery” as a means to improve graduation rates. Again, more from the nprED article:

“Credit recovery is as old as extra credit and summer school. It used to be granted mostly at teachers’ and schools’ discretion. But in recent years, with great pressure to improve graduation rates, it went big. For-profit companies like K12, National High School and The Keystone School began offering mostly online courses for high school credit.

‘Some of these credit-recovery programs frankly aren’t terribly rigorous and aren’t preparing students well for what’s next,’ says Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy development at The Education Trust, a nonprofit education research group.”

Where do these school district questionable policies originate? They are the brain children of school district administrations and they are condoned by school boards that are asleep at the switch.

As one doctorate-holding concerned community member said during a discussion of a potential school bond levy, “The district needs to show honest quantifiable positive results before you ask the community for more money”. Makes sense to me.

Next, E-City Beat will present what we think are the real qualifications for a new superintendent.



Posted by Philip M. Faccenda

Philip M. Faccenda is an AIA award-winning architect and planner. He is the Editor-in-Chief of E-City Beat.

Reader interactions

7 Replies to “How Does GFPS Stack Up?”

  1. Hi Phillip,

    How can you make an apples to apples comparison without including all the demographic variables that influence student performance? Gardiner High is where all the National Park students go, and the high percentage of federal employees must highly subsidize that district. It has a 10 to 1 student to teacher ratio, is that comparable to GFPS? Or what about average incomes, number of single parent households, or percentage of families living below the poverty line? Guess what, the numbers for the G Funk are worse across the board. Think that has an effect on schools? Yep.

    I’m pretty sure a simple mixed regression model comparing student outcomes against parental incomes and educational attainment, expenditures per students, student to teacher ratios, etc., could explain far more than school administrations across the state. And if GFPS did not move students all around town, neighborhood demographics would go a long way to explain outcomes between schools. It’s pretty simple math, and the factors that influence student performance have been researched extensively.

    I get that you don’t like GFPS leadership, but you really seem to be trying to fit results to an agenda here, instead of trying to examine the results. You can do better.


    1. Bill, you wrote:

      “Or what about average incomes, number of single parent households, or percentage of families living below the poverty line? Guess what, the numbers for the G Funk are worse across the board.”

      I’m wondering where you got the numbers to back up the claim that GF is “worse across the board”?



    2. Philip M. Faccenda December 21, 2018 at 5:11 PM

      Bill, Do you really think that there is anyone in the administration of GFPS that even understands “a simple mixed regression model”, let alone construct one to explain why the numbers for “G Funk”, as you call it, are worse across the board? If you could do it reasonably well, you would be a Master’s in ED candidate, and maybe good superintendent material.


  2. Results are obvious – this is comparing Montana schools. Great Falls readiness percentage is deplorable. This used to be an amazing school system. It points to leadership or more accurately, lack of quality leadership.


  3. “Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach. Those that can’t teach, teach drivers ed.”

    Whether or not the GFPS school admin staff can do the math does not change what drives outcomes. I’d be all for making candidates for any publically funded position solve basic math problems in front of an audience, with incorrect answers disqualifying them from the positions. Just as long as we put the same guidelines on the audience. The world would be a better place.

    Rick- first set of numbers was from wikipedia, citing census data. G funk: 11.5 % percent of households female only, no husband present. Median family income 40k, 11.3 percent of families below poverty line. Gardiner: 5.7% of households female only, no husband present. Median income 46k, 3.4% of families below poverty line.

    Another source of data is College Simply. Basically a data aggregator pulling down data from the national education websites. Simple infographics showing huge differences between schools. Here’s percentage of students qualifying for free/discounted school lunch, which is commonly used as a proxy for socioeconomic disadvantage (aka, it sucks to be poor). Gardiner 7.7%, Bozeman 15.5%. G funk 39.8%. Statewide average 25.4%. Those are big differences and can easily explain differences in graduation rates. I’m not trying to defend GFPS. I just think all discussion needs to be grounded in data and theory.

    If you want to hold their feet to the fire, I’d love to hear the city’s and GFPSs plan to deal with the rapid change in demographics associated with the proposed animal slaughter facility. Since the demographics of that labor segment are well known, it would be pretty easy to create realistic scenarios about how it could impact our community.

    I’m fairly sympathetic to many of the issues e-city presents, which is why i read it. But I do think you could do a better job presenting the issues and what is known about the drivers creating them. It’s the only way we’ll create working solutions.

    Merry Christmas!


    1. Merry Christmas and thanks for the info, Bill.

      Btw, from everything I’m hearing, the slaughterhouse is a dead issue now because the developer couldn’t get financing.


  4. […] Great Falls High School 75.8% graduation rate? Are you kidding me? The numbers are actually worse than what we previously reported in an E-City Beat article. […]


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