More Hyalite Elementary School students pass the state's math and reading tests than average for Montana, but the school has more struggling students than other Bozeman schools. So the school is focusing on tackling the problem and helping students succeed.

Principal Mike Van Vuren told School Board trustees Tuesday that the school is already using a number of strategies to help struggling students, but if those interventions aren't working, “We need to try something different.”

“We have an outstanding staff,” Van Vuren said. Teachers are focusing on the bright spots of what's working, spreading those ideas and working to motivate students. “We're still driving to get to student success.”

School Board trustees and central administrators visited Hyalite as part of their annual lunch visits to familiarize themselves with each of Bozeman's schools.

Hyalite third- to fifth-graders fared better than the average for Montana students last spring on the statewide standardized CRT tests. In reading, 89 percent of Hyalite students scored proficient or advanced. In math, 80 percent did well.

Those scores beat the Montana averages of 84 percent in reading and 66 percent in math. However, Hyalite had the lowest scores of Bozeman's seven elementary schools.

Looking at more detailed test results from each grade level, Van Vuren said, “Our students struggle with the transition from third to fourth grade.” Different tests used during the school year showed that the number of struggling kids actually increased in upper grades.

Part of the reason, the principal said, is that by third and fourth grades, students have to move beyond “learning to read” and start “reading to learn.” Comprehension has been difficult for a significant minority of students.

When one trustee asked if test scores had been broken down to see how low-income students were faring, Van Vuren said he wants to get away from looking at such factors as low income or disabilities.

“No matter who's in front of us, we need to do the best we can,” Van Vuren said. Instead of looking at subgroups, it's important to look, he said, at “trends as a whole.”

After the meeting, administrators were asked for low-income statistics and said that 45 percent of Hyalite students qualified last year for free or reduced-price lunches. It was one of three Bozeman elementary schools with a large portion of low-income kids.

Superintendent Rob Watson said he appreciates the fact that Hyalite and all Bozeman schools aren't ignoring problems.

“They're trying to figure out what works to help students achieve,” Watson said. “I'm very optimistic. We're on the right track, not just at Hyalite but all our schools.”

Trustee Heide Arneson said she really likes the fact that Hyalite's staff is owning up to the test data and developing plans to improve.

“To me that's positive,” she said. “It looks like they're really zeroing in on what students need to succeed.”

One of Hyalite's listed goals for the coming year is to increase to 90 percent the number of fourth-graders who are proficient in understanding informational texts.

That ties in with the new Common Core standards, an effort by Montana and other states to raise the bar for students and increase the real-world relevance of education.

Fifth-grade teachers Dacia Lackey and Danny Waldo told the School Board about training they've received in the new Montana Common Core curriculum through a $1 million statewide federal grant. They explained they hope to act as “seed teachers” and spread information about the Common Core to Bozeman schools and help develop new lesson plans.

Other school districts are moving to adopt the Common Core one grade at a time, they said, but Bozeman is working on all elementary grades at once.

“Go big or go home,” Lackey quipped.

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

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