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Reservation schools struggle to meet state standards

When reviewing the Adequate Yearly Progress report that the Montana Office of Public Instruction put out this month, a troubling trend of consistent inadequate progress can be seen in or near the state's Indian reservations.

The only school districts in Montana to be entering their 11th year of corrective action, meaning they have never met the state's standards, are in Poplar and Brockton on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Heart Butte and Browning on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Rocky Boy on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, Hays-Lodge Pole on Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and Lodge Grass and Plenty Coups on Crow Indian Reservation.

Voyd St. Pierre, superintendent of Rocky Boy Public Schools, told the Chippewa Cree Business Committee last week that the school had been able to meet the reading requirement, which he attributed to the past eight years of a Reading First program, though "with math, we did not pass, but we made progress. "

The problems that reservation schools face hit close to home for Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, who is from the Blackfeet reservation.

She spoke at last May's Rocky Boy High School graduation ceremony, telling the students there are greater difficulties for native students, but that it makes it more important that they succeed, to find and fight for their place "at the table. "

OPI's Communications Director Allyson Hagen said that OPI has a several programs — Schools of Promise, Indian Education for All, Graduation Matters — that have made impacts on reservation education, but it can be tricky.

"One of the big things we're hoping for is best practices we can share, " Hagen said. "Culture and community has been a big part of the consideration in those communities. "

Hagen also insists that 11 years of corrective action is not as dire as it sounds.

"Even if they're not hitting that bar that's moving up and moving up and moving up, it's important to look at those schools, where they've come from, where they started and are they making gains? Are there less students that are considered novice? " Hagen said. "There's a lot more to look at how a school is doing than if they've made AYP. "


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