A deal worked out between the Montana Office of Public Instruction and the U.S. Department of Education has lowered the requirement for Billings schools to be in compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The new standards require 84.4 percent of students to be reading at or above grade level and 70 percent of students to be doing math at or above grade level.
Under the compromise, seven Billings School District 2 schools — Alkali Creek, Arrowhead, Beartooth, Big Sky, Highland and Rose Park elementary schools and Will James Middle School — reached the target and 22 schools missed.
Originally, the requirements for this year had jumped to 92 percent proficiency in reading and 84 percent proficiency in math.
Had those targets held, only Arrowhead and Rose Park would have hit the mark.
Known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the proficiency percentages will go up again next year. By 2014, 100 percent of students will be required to be reading and performing in math at or above their grade level.
The requirement applies both to a school’s all-student average and to its smaller subgroups, broken down by ethnicity, disability and family income.
A school can have an all-student average that hits the AYP target, but if one of its subgroups misses, then the whole school fails.
Looking at just all-student averages, 11 additional schools scored at or above the new AYP targets, including West High and Lewis and Clark Middle School.
When AYP scores were first released in August, OPI had been sparring with the Education Department for a lower compliance rate. As a result, Montana schools bucked the 92/84 requirement and instead used last year’s 83/68 targets to calculate compliance.
But even when using those targets, SD2’s No Child Left Behind compliance didn’t change — the same seven schools hit the mark while 22 schools missed, up from the 18 that missed that mark last year.
Despite the increase in schools missing the AYP requirements, many students show year-over-year improvement in reading and math skills, said Gail Surwill, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
The district, which tracks the progress of individual classes as they move up through the grade levels, sees steady improvement in reading and math proficiency.
Districtwide, 89 percent of SD2 students are proficient in reading at the high school level and 86 percent are proficient in reading at the elementary level. For math, 69 percent of high school students and elementary students districtwide are proficient.
Still, enough schools on their own have failed to meet their targets that SD2 has been in trouble for the past five years for not meeting its AYP goals.
“Which is pretty significant,” Surwill said.
OPI has dedicated resources to the district, including increased training for teachers.
Next year, schools will be required to have 89.6 percent of their students reading at or above grade level and 70 percent of their students performing math at or above grade level.