Bozeman’s Irving School sounds like a mini-United Nations, where students can welcome visitors in native tongues ranging from Crow to Korean, Arabic, German, Egyptian and Bengali.
Irving teaches students from all over the world, many of them the children of Montana State University’s international and American Indian married students and professors. It creates both opportunities and challenges, Irving Principal Adrian Advincula said Tuesday at a lunch meeting with School Board trustees.
The school embraces its diversity and each year celebrates International Day with songs, dances, native costumes and international speakers.
On the other hand, the school faces the challenge of teaching a number of children who arrive knowing little or no English.
The school also has a highly transient population, Advincula said. One year, a quarter of the fourth-graders and half the third-graders were new to the school, he said. In addition, Irving has the second-largest population of low-income students in Bozeman, with 42 percent of children qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches last year.
Those factors affect students’ performance on the state’s standardized tests. Last spring, the school fell short of its reading goal, that 92 percent of students would test at grade level or higher, but it generally beat the state’s target of 84.4 percent.
Reading scores ranged from 82 percent of third-graders at grade level or better, to 85 percent of fourth-graders and 90 percent of fifth-graders. A majority of students scored at the highest level, advanced, in all three grades.
Among low-income students, 61 to 79 percent of students scored at grade level or higher in reading. Advincula said when teachers look closely at the scores, it appears that transient students are having the most difficulty.
On math tests, Irving generally fared better than the state target, that 70 percent of students would test at grade level or higher, but fell short of its own goal of 84 percent. On the math test, 64 percent of third-graders, 72 percent of fourth-graders and 75 percent of fifth-graders scored at grade level or higher. Low-income students had substantially lower scores. As a result, Irving did not make “adequate yearly progress” under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
As Irving students moved up from third to fourth to fifth grades, their math scores improved, from 64 percent to 75 percent testing at grade level.
“Gains are being made, but how do we improve the math scores for students who transfer to our district?” Advincula said.
Third-grade teachers Sara Filipowicz and Sarah Barefield and special-education resource teacher Linda Mulvey explained some of the steps being taken to help students. They’ve created “walk to read” and “walk to math” classes, where all third-graders are divided by ability into four groups. The teachers work with kids struggling most, while a paraprofessional teaches kids already at grade level and a parent works with students at the highest level.
“If they’re not making enough gains, we can act immediately,” Barefield said. “We bounce ideas off each other all the time.”
The school also gets a lot of help from its teaching coach, John Nielson, and its English as a second language teacher, Christine Jonsson, the principal said.
Fifth-grader Abigail Fletcher said she likes Irving School because it is international and welcomes new students. “All kids are treated the same,” she said.
“Students and teachers are respectful to each other,” said fifth-grader Ambrose Big Lake. He said he also likes Irving because “kids get to learn at your own pace.”
School Board trustees applauded the school’s staff.
“It’s a different population,” Trustee Gary Lusin said. “There are unique challenges here. They have good leadership, good staff.”
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.