Bozeman’s newest elementary school is feeling growing pains.

Hyalite School, which opened in 2009 with nearly 300 students, has grown to 488 students this year, Principal Mike Van Vuren said Tuesday, when School Board trustees visited the school on West Babcock Street. It was part of the trustees’ annual lunch visits to each of Bozeman’s schools.

Hyalite has a “new principal, new teachers, new students, new parents,” said Van Vuren, who started as principal this year. “There’s a lot of change going on here.

“I think we’re doing very well, because of the dedicated staff we have.”

Rapid growth may be one reason why the school’s math scores slipped on the state’s standardized tests, given last spring.

On the math test, Hyalite students beat the state’s target, which was that 70 percent of students score at grade level or higher. But the school fell short of its own goal of 84 percent.

Some 88 percent of last year’s fifth-graders did well in math, beating the school’s goal. But only 80 percent of third-graders and 73 percent of fourth-graders scored well, falling short of the school’s own goal.

One concern is that the portion of students scoring well in math shrank by 12 percent when students moved from third grade in 2010 to fourth grade last year, and by 8 percent when students moved from fourth to fifth grade.

Van Vuren said several factors may explain those declines. The school has a large and growing number of children whose family income is low enough to qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The number of low-income students increased from 39 percent last year to 42 percent this year. The portion of low-income students scoring well on math and reading tests was around 10 percentage points less than the class as a whole. The principal said the school plans to work with the Gallatin Valley Food Bank to provide needy kids with food packs.

Another factor is that turnover was high among fourth-graders. And sample sizes are small. The school had only one fourth-grade and one fifth-grade class last year, so a single child’s score could mean a 4 percent difference, Van Vuren said.

The number of girls having trouble with math doubled, he said, so the school is trying to find ways to improve in that area. The school is also spreading out its math intervention help more evenly among all grades.

Hyalite students had stronger scores on last spring’s reading test. They generally beat the state’s target, which is that 84.4 percent of students read at grade level or higher. But the school fell short of its own goal that 92 percent of students would do well.

On the reading test, the portion of Hyalite students scoring at grade level or higher was 90 percent in third grade, 85 percent in fourth grade and 84 percent in fifth grade.

This year, Van Vuren said, the school is taking a number of steps to improve. It has expanded its successful “walk to read” program and started “walk to math.” That means dividing students by ability and having them walk to different classrooms, so teachers can concentrate on teaching kids with similar challenges.

In addition, teachers are collaborating more to solve problems, working with the school’s instructional coach and intervention teachers and devising individual teacher development training programs.

As a new school, Hyalite has some of the best high-tech equipment in Bozeman schools, but not all teachers feel comfortable using it yet, Van Vuren said.

The school’s goals for this year include reducing student misbehavior, creating a positive atmosphere at school and creating individualized learning for each student, Van Vuren said. That means, he said, “looking at students as individuals and not just teaching to the middle of the class … making sure we can push high-flyers as well.”

The School Board trustees applauded the principal’s presentation.

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

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