HELENA — Three-fourths of Montana’s schools met their progress goals under the federal No Child Left Behind Act this year, the state reported Friday — although Montana has set those goals lower than the federal government wanted.
Test results released Friday show that the percentage of Montana kids scoring “proficient” in reading and math increased slightly this year over last, and has steadily risen over the past five years.
“We continue to celebrate our great educational outcomes in Montana as well as confront our challenges,” said Denise Juneau, the state superintendent of public instruction.
For the current school year, 85 percent of Montana students tested at or above “proficient” in reading and 68 percent for math. That’s up from last year’s figures of 84 percent and 67 percent.
The tests are administered in March to students in grades three through eight and 10th grade.
The minimums for Montana had been scheduled to increase this year to 92 percent in reading and 84 percent in math. However, Juneau decided that those goals were unrealistic and suspended them, leaving this year’s goals the same as last year’s.
Using last year’s goals, 22 schools in Billings School District 2 failed to meet adequate yearly progress, 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.
Using this year’s, then only two Billings schools — Arrowhead and Rose Park — would meet AYP standards.
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.
Juneau said she’s due to offer a compromise proposal to the federal government by Aug. 15.
The test results are part of 41 benchmarks that schools must meet to show required progress under the nine-year-old law.
For example, not only must the entire student body of a school achieve the minimum proficiency scores to meet the federal goals, but also each of several subsets of students, such as ethnic groups and special education students.
If one of those groups doesn’t meet the proficiency requirements, the entire school fails, Juneau said.
Juneau said she believes No Child Left Behind sets up public schools to fail by requiring them to reach an impossible goal of 100 percent by 2014, without taking into account the difficulties some schools may face.
“It’s really sort of a made-up hurdle,” she said Friday. “Our schools do pretty well right now, and the bar is pretty high.”
Out of 821 schools in Montana, 609 met the goals for this year, or 74 percent. The vast majority of the schools that fell short of the goal were in Montana’s major cities or on or near Indian reservations.
Juneau said big-city schools are more likely to fail because they have so many subsets of students that all have to meet the proficiency goals.
As for reservation schools, there are many reasons why they may not achieve the law’s goals, but a major one is poverty, she said.
“When you look anywhere in the country and you have persistent, generational poverty, you find schools that are not performing well on the test,” Juneau said.
Juneau said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be making a statement Monday on waivers to meeting this year’s NCLB goals.
She noted that the NCLB law is four years overdue for re-authorization, that the Obama administration has launched its own educational goals that schools are supposed to meet, and that the state Legislature has required another set of data on school results.
“At some point there needs to be some relief,” she said.
Gazette reporter Rob Rogers contributed to this article.