State Superintendent Denise Juneau reached a compromise with education officials over federal benchmarks. The agreement allows more Montana schools to meet acceptable gains on student performance by lowering the state’s 2010-11 goals that measure adequate yearly progress.

On Monday morning, Juneau announced the agreement with the Department of Education on Montana’s No Child Left Behind benchmarks, which leaves 16 additional public schools that did not meet the objectives verses 155 more under the initial goals. Out of 821 public schools in the state, 228 are not making adequate yearly progress.

The deal sets the state’s Annual Measurable Objectives at 84.4 percent for student proficiency in reading and 70 percent in math, instead of 92 percent and 84, respectively. The increase is much more doable for schools, Juneau said, with a 1.4 percent increase in reading and a 2 percent increase in math instead of 9 percent and 19 percent in the original language.

Last school year, students tested 83 percent in reading and 68 percent in math. The goal remains to achieve 100 percent proficiency in both subject areas by 2014. 

Also under the new plan, reading proficiency is supposed to jump next school year from 84.4 percent to 89.6 percent. Math proficiency is supposed to increase from 70 percent to 80 percent. 

Juneau said No Child Left Behind is broken and that steady increases in scores is a better measurement for schools than enforcing large overall increases with threats of slashed funding.

The Office of Public Instruction was at risk of losing $440,000 in Title 1 administrative money if not compliant by Monday, but an alternative plan was made and other states have taken the same course, Juneau said.

That money is 1 percent of the total $44 million Title 1 money the state receives and wouldn’t have affected classrooms, she added.

“We are not going to jeopardize any funding that goes into schools,” Juneau said.

The deal only lasts for a year, and Juneau will cross next year’s bridge when it’s time.

“We will take this year by year,” she said.

Juneau wants to see what conditions are imposed by further waivers and compromises with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

What works in places like Washington, D.C., with millions of people, Juneau said, might not work in places like Montana.

Juneau received support from Sen. Max Baucus and Sen. Jon Tester through this process.

“I spoke directly to Secretary Arne Duncan to urge them to work with the state, and I’m pleased to see the Department of Education has reached an agreement with Montana,” Baucus said in a press release. “It has been clear for some time that No Child Left Behind has created unnecessary burdens for Montana’s schools and its students, and it is essential that Congress fix this legislation as soon as possible. In the meantime, this agreement brings some relief to Montana schools, and I applaud Denise for standing up for Montana.”

Tester said much of the same.

“I’m glad all sides came together and reached an acceptable compromise,” said Tester. “This more recent situation is yet another reminder of the significant shortcomings of No Child Left Behind for rural and frontier America. I will continue to work with Superintendent Juneau and Montana’s teachers and parents to make sure that the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act meets the needs of Montana’s students and school districts.”

Juneau is pleased with the awareness that came out through this waiver process.

“The biggest thing that I see come out of this: It has brought a lot of attention to this broken system,” she said. “These AMOs are not a true reflection of how schools are doing.”

Juneau says it is not a good indicator of good schools, and it’s bad for morale.

“This brings down the morale of the staff and the community,” she said.

She says there are a few good outcomes of NCLB, particularly the use of the data, because it will help schools confront their challenges.

NCLB certainly had its place during its time, Juneau said, but now there are new directions and for now, she is pleased with this successful negotiation.

“This is a huge win for our public education system,” she said.

Matt Volz of The Associated Press contributed to this report

Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or

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