Principal Jerry Bauer says many Whittier School parents were mad when they received letters announcing that because the school wasn't making enough progress on test scores under No Child Left Behind, they had the right to move their children to other schools.

"I'm very proud our parents can see that No Child Left Behind is flawed," Bauer said Tuesday. "There's more to a school than a test score.

"Most parents were incensed to get a letter saying they can go somewhere else," he said. "They value our school so much. Parents say they wouldn't be anywhere else."

Bauer stressed the progress Whittier is making and the dedication of its teachers and staff during a lunch meeting Tuesday with Bozeman School Board trustees. It was the second of 10 weekly visits the trustees are making to each of Bozeman's schools.

Trustees applauded Bauer and his staff for their efforts to improve learning for Whittier's 248 elementary students.

Bauer said Whittier's staff is getting additional training, holding more meetings with parents to get them involved, putting on math and reading nights for families, using new computer programs and offering tutoring to children who struggle.

Whittier's motto is "A wonderful place to grow," Bauer said, and he highlighted the positive. Children saved $4,000 in the first year of the school-sponsored bank. Its Destination ImagiNation program has grown from one to three teams. More than 100 students were served by its lively after-school program, which helps kids with homework, brings in firefighters and visiting artists and encourages kids to put on plays.

In addition, the parent council has grown from just a couple parents to an "amazing" group of active volunteers, Bauer said. Montana State University students, the Sourdough Lions Club and other groups volunteer at Whittier and donors have given more than $40,000 to the school in recent years.

Bauer's voice choked with emotion when he talked about the Gallatin Valley Food Bank bringing meals to the school for about 100 kids to take home for the weekend.

Kathy Evans, speech and language pathologist, said she has "never been more proud" to work with Whittier staff, who show "incredible devotion to doing what's right for students."

Historically, Whittier School has had the highest percentage of children from low-income families and the lowest test scores of Bozeman's elementary schools. This year 46 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Bauer said last spring, Whittier's low-income kids did as well as other students on statewide tests.

"It's important to move every child," he said.

In the 2010 statewide CRT test given to Montana students last spring, 79 percent of Whittier children scored at grade level or higher in reading, while in math, 70 percent scored that well. Those were below the state and Bozeman School District averages, according to the state Office of Public Instruction website.

That made 2010 the third year Whittier failed to make "adequate yearly progress" under NCLB, which put it in the "second year -- identified for improvement" category.

Four other Bozeman schools failed to make "adequate yearly progress" with this spring's test scores - Chief Joseph and Sacajawea middle schools, Longfellow Elementary and Bozeman High School. They are in the "first year" category of needing improvement.

Every year a school fails to make adequate progress, it gets closer to NCLB sanctions. By 2014, all schools in America are supposed to raise 100 percent of students to grade level or be labeled as failing. Bozeman school administrators contend that 100 percent is an unrealistic goal.

Fewer than 10 Whittier children moved to other schools in response to the letters sent out to families in August, said Marilyn King, assistant superintendent for instruction at the Bozeman School District. Nationally, King said, few parents take advantage of the right to move their kids because they value neighborhood schools.

Superintendent Kirk Miller predicted that Congress is going to rewrite No Child Left Behind and change the federal education law from punishing schools to focusing on the growth of individual children.

Miller said he hopes lawmakers do so because "growth and reward works more effectively than test and punish."

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.