At Chief Joseph Middle School, efforts to raise English and math skills for struggling students are showing results, Principal Diane Cashell told Bozeman School Board trustees Tuesday.

In the last three years, Cashell said, the portion of students who tested at grade level in math has jumped from 57 percent to 77 percent among sixth-graders, 63 percent to 79 percent among seventh-graders, and 55 percent to 68 percent among eighth-graders.

“These are gains to be celebrated,” Cashell said. Though Chief Joseph’s test results from last spring were below the school’s own goal of 84 percent in math, they beat the state of Montana’s goal of 70 percent proficiency, except in eighth grade.

Math was difficult for many eighth-graders last year, the first year the school district tried to teach “algebra for all” instead of to just a small group of high-achieving students, Cashell said. Halfway through the year, it became clear that only 50 percent to 60 percent of students were succeeding. So both Bozeman middle schools, Chief Joseph and Sacajawea, scrambled to create slower-paced math classes for struggling students.

At Chief Joseph, a small, 15-student math intervention class worked wonderfully by going at the students’ pace, Cashell said. She read comments from last year’s students.

“I felt smart,” one wrote. “Now I’m getting A’s.”

“I used to hate, absolutely hate math, and now I love it,” another student wrote. “Math has changed my life.”

In reading, Chief Joseph students met the state’s goal that 84.4 percent of students be able to read at grade level. The portion of students who did well on the state reading test last spring was 89 percent of sixth-graders, 96 percent of seventh-graders and 84 percent of eighth-graders.

The school has a large number of low-income students – 35 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches – and their scores were lower, as were scores for students with disabilities. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the school did not make “adequate yearly progress.” Cashell said she’s excited about the school district’s decision this year to focus instead on each individual student making improvements.

Kids who are struggling get a double dose of reading in a reading strategies class, and most kids who do so are showing improvement.

In addition, the school sets aside a half-hour at the end of the school day, when students can seek additional help in a class, or do something for enrichment, like taking a guitar class, learning Japanese or making Lego robots.

Brian Ayers, assistant principal, said efforts to improve student behavior have resulted in a 19 percent decrease in minor infractions and 14 percent decline in major infractions.

Cashell ended the meeting by showing a short video, broadcast recently on “Nick News” on the Nickelodeon channel, about CJMS girls who volunteered on a project to alter ranch fences so antelope can migrate without getting caught and killed in the wires.

School Board trustees, who have been making lunch visits to each of Bozeman’s 10 schools, applauded the girls and the Chief Joseph staff.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.