Many Billings School District 2 schools missed meeting their reading and math proficiency requirements this year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
In all, 22 schools missed the mark, up from 18 last year.
Seven schools — Alkali Creek, Arrowhead, Beartooth, Big Sky, Highland and Rose Park elementary schools, and Will James Middle School — cleared the bar.
Last year, 11 schools met the requirements.
The results are no surprise and could end up being worse depending on what happens with a state Office of Public Instruction petition to the U.S. Department of Education.
A year ago, SD2 staff told trustees during their September board meeting to expect in the coming year big declines in school compliance with No Child Left Behind requirements.
The reason? Federal requirements from the 2011 to 2012 school year rose significantly.
Last year, 83 percent of students were required to be reading at or above grade level and 68 percent were required to be performing at that level in math.
This year, those figures jumped to 92 percent proficiency in reading and 84 percent proficiency in math.
The requirement applies both to a school's all-student average and to its smaller subgroups, broken down by ethnicity, disability and family income.
Known as Adequate Yearly Progress, the percentages go up again next year until in 2014 when 100 percent of students will be required to be reading and performing in math at or above their grade level.
This year's double-digit jump in proficiency spurred state Superintendent of Schools Denise Juneau to petition the Education Department for a stay in the requirements.
Until that's decided, she's basing No Child Left Behind compliance among Montana public schools this year on last year's proficiency requirements — 83 percent proficiency in reading and the 68 percent proficiency for math.
If the petition fails, then only two Billings schools this year — Arrowhead and Rose Park — would meet AYP standards under the more rigorous requirement of 92 percent proficiency in reading and 84 percent proficiency in math.
Idaho recently petitioned the Education Department for similar flexibility and that was granted last week.
Officials in SD2 are monitoring the debate and, in the meantime, are pushing for improvement on the district level.
Despite the drop in the number of schools meeting AYP requirements, many students show year-over-year improvement in reading and math skills.
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.
"I believe growth is much more appropriate a barometer," Superintendent Keith Beeman said.
Districtwide, students are at 89 percent proficient in reading at the high school level and 86 percent proficient in reading at the elementary level.
For math, both high school students and elementary students districtwide are 69 percent proficient.
The district's three high schools — Senior, Skyview and West — missed the federal benchmarks this year but scored points markedly higher than where they were last year.
Senior was 89 percent proficient in reading and 69 percent proficient in math; Skyview was 89 percent proficient in reading and 68 percent proficient in math; and West was 91 percent proficient in reading and 76 percent proficient in math.
The only other schools to show across-the-board improvements this year were Alkali Creek, Arrowhead and Beartooth.
Alkali Creek was 93 percent proficient in reading and 81 percent proficient in math; Arrowhead was 98 percent proficient in reading and 90 percent proficient in math; and Beartooth was 91 percent proficient in reading and 79 percent proficient in math.
"We do feel good about where we're going," said Gail Surwill, SD2’s curriculum director. "But is there room for improvement? Absolutely."
Orchard, a school with one of the district's highest rates of students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals — which is how the federal government tracks student poverty — continued to struggle this year.
It's reading proficiency rate was 75 percent — the lowest in the district — and its math proficiency rate was 56 percent, the second lowest.
Ponderosa, another school with high rates of students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals, saw its reading proficiency hit 78 percent and its math proficiency hit 55 percent, the lowest in the district.
Exacerbating the problem at schools like Ponderosa and Orchard are attendance rates. Student attendance rates tend to be lower at poorer schools, and educators point out that they can't teach students who aren't in the classroom.
The district works hard to meet the needs of its individual students, Beeman said.
Programs, like a summer study camp tailored to American Indian students, have grown in popularity over the years and helped to improve some test scores.
The district wants to see the success of all students, regardless of where they live or from where they come from, Beeman said.
"They deserve our best and they're going to continue to get it," he said.