Denise Juneau, Montana's top teacher, is just saying no to No Child Left Behind.
Juneau, state superintendent of public instruction, said Tuesday in Bozeman that she has written to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announcing her decision not to raise the target test scores that Montana schools must meet this year to avoid being labeled as failing under the federal law.
"I'm not asking permission," Juneau said in an interview. She said it's "unfair" to make schools work on both the old priorities of the No Child Left Behind law and the new priorities set by the Obama administration.
No Child Left Behind sets a goal that by 2014, all U.S. schools must have 100 percent of their students testing at grade level in reading and math. To help Montana schools reach that 100 percent goal, the state Office of Public Instruction has raised the bar for test scores every few years.
This year, Montana's targets were scheduled to rise from 83 percent to 92 percent of students at grade level in reading, and jump from 68 percent to 84 percent in math.
Those targets would be impossible for many schools to meet. Last year on average, 84 percent of Montana students were at grade level in reading, 1 point above the current target, but just 67 percent scored well in math, 1 point below the target. The statewide graduation rate was 81 percent, below the target of 85 percent.
Juneau wrote in an April 25 letter to Duncan that Montana schools are "reeling" from the additional data collection and uncertainty created by the changing priorities set by No Child Left Behind and the Obama administration's new education goals.
"(W)e need some alleviation of the strict across-the-board, one-size-fits-all, absolute bar of 100 percent proficiency on state assessments," Juneau wrote. "You understand that the unrealistic 100 percent goal undermines the work and morale of students and educators and the public's confidence in schools."
While waiting for Congress to write a new, long-overdue revision of federal education law, Juneau wrote, it is important "not to penalize our schools." Keeping the targets at 83 percent in reading and 68 percent in math provides "high learning targets," she said, "and promotes goodwill to our schools."
In addition, when schools fall behind, the state is supposed to provide extra services, which require money and manpower that OPI doesn't have.
In Bozeman, despite being considered a strong school district, five out of its 10 schools failed to make "adequate yearly progress" last year under No Child Left Behind. Most often schools fell short because too few low-income or special-education students scored at grade level. If one sub-category of students fails to make the target score, the entire school and school district end up being labeled as failures.
Juneau pointed out that Montana test scores have risen steadily in recent years. Six years ago, on average just 62 percent of students scored at grade level in reading and 57 percent in math. Since 2004, those have increased by 22 percentage points in reading and 10 points in math.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.