This story is excerpted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest that showcases a more personal side of Montana Free Press’ reporting.

Percentage of Montana high school students who tested as “novice” in math on standardized tests during the 2021-22 school year, according to data released by the Office of Public Instruction last week. The figure continues a steady decline in math proficiency over the last six years, with the share of high school students testing as “proficient” or higher slipping from 36.2% in 2015-16 to 25.3% last spring. English Language Arts scores have followed a similar trend, with 42.1% of students assessed as proficient or higher in 2021-22 compared to 52.5% in 2015-16.

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Alex Sakariassen is a 2008 graduate of the University of Montana's School of Journalism, where he worked for four years at the Montana Kaimin student newspaper and cut his journalistic teeth as a paid news intern for the Choteau Acantha for two summers. After obtaining his bachelor's degree in journalism and history, Sakariassen spent nearly 10 years covering environmental issues and state and federal politics for the alternative newsweekly Missoula Independent. He transitioned into freelance journalism following the Indy's abrupt shuttering in September 2018, writing in-depth features, breaking...