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Rural schools make the grade


Thirteen area schools that were too small to be evaluated in August have all met new federal education standards, according to a list released Wednesday by the state Office of Public Instruction.

The state's 176 smallest schools - including the Cleveland, Bear Paw, Davey and Cottonwood schools, K-G School, Joplin-Inverness K-6, Gildford Colony and North Harlem Elementary schools - were evaluated by a team of OPI officials in December. The officials used a three-step evaluation process to determine if the schools met the standards of No Child Left Behind, President Bush's sweeping education policy.

No Child Left Behind requires all schools that receive federal funding to make "adequate yearly progress" each year. In most schools, that is determined by examining reading and math test scores, attendance, high school completion rates and test participation among 11 categories of students.

But in some schools - those with fewer than 20 students in the grade being tested - the small number of students means reporting students test scores could reveal individual students' scores, violating the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Another reason small schools must be evaluated differently is that the federal formulas used to evaluate adequate yearly progress from test scores don't work with fewer than 20 students, said Joe Lamson, OPI communications director.

In those cases OPI officials must make evaluations of each school separately by looking at their five-year plans, attendance rates and graduation information.

"I know that they've worked hard to meet all of those standards and we're very proud of them for doing that," said Carol Elliot, Blaine County superintendent of schools. "I guess this is a success story for the rural schools." Blaine County had four schools too small to be evaluated in August: Cleveland Elementary, Bear Paw School, North Harlem Elementary, and the seventh and eighth grade of Turner School.

Hill County Superintendent of Schools Shirley Isbell could not be reached for comment today. Small schools in Hill County are Davey School, Cottonwood School, K-G School, Gildford Colony School and Blue Sky Elementary School. All five made adequate yearly progress.

Three small schools in Liberty County - Whitlash School, Joplin-Inverness K-6 and Liberty Elementary School - also made adequate yearly progress.

Overall, 175 of 176 of small schools made the grade, said Al McMilin, accreditation specialist and one of the No Child Left Behind coordinators at OPI. That was a much higher success rate than Montana schools as a whole.

McMilin said he does not believe the small schools were held to a less stringent standard.

"In fact, I would say there was a broader look at the achievement and attendance and graduation patterns for the smaller schools," he said.

OPI released the status of an additional 33 schools Wednesday. McMilin said today that most of those were schools that did not include one of the three grade levels that took standardized tests last year.

That means that the final decisions on the status of all Montana public schools have been made. A total of 685 Montana schools - 80 percent - made adequately yearly progress, the press release said. A total of 173 schools did not make the standard, including three schools in Blaine County, seven in Hill County and one in Liberty County, according to a list on the OPI Web site.

Schools that fail to meet the requirements in any of the subgroups must revise their five-year education plans, the press release said.

If noncompliance persists, those schools may face sanctions including a loss of funding and a replacement of faculty and administration.


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