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Reservations' schoolchildren need boost up

It seems like such great news: Fully 93 percent of the state's public schools met the federal No Child Left Behind standards this year.

And that's up seven points from last year.

Feeling pretty good?

Now consider this: The results also showed that only 56 percent of Montana fourth-graders are proficient in math.

That should give strong heartburn to about half the parents of elementary students.

The disappointing number appears to hold true even as kids get older. Of the Montana students who took the ACT college exams this year and they usually include the brightest students only 54 percent were deemed prepared for college algebra.

The numbers are quite a bit higher for English composition (82 percent), but much lower for biology (39).

Though Montana schools are considered good by most measures, too many students aren't as proficient as they need to be to be successful in the workplace of today and tomorrow.

Whether you love or hate the No Child Left Behind program, you can't deny that it focuses much more attention on public education.

The spotlight last week was on how well Montana schools fared meeting federal test standards.

Mostly, the news was heartening. Even the fourth-grade math scores were up quite a bit from last year's 45 percent proficiency rate.

The most notable disappointment continues to be with performance at schools on most of the state's Indian reservations.

With the exception of the Flathead Reservation in northwest Montana, all others had at least one school failing to meet the "adequate yearly progress" standard.

Translation: Many of the state's Native American students are not getting the education they need to improve their lives.

That must change.

The schools, of course, play a huge role. But so do families, and so do legislators who right now are trying to determine the best way to fund "quality education" in Montana.

The good news is that many of the reservation schools are showing improvement.

They're drawing on an array of resources to tackle problems that range from high teacher turnover, to lack of training, to cultural stumbling blocks.

Mary Johnson, superintendent of the Browning School District is absolutely right when she says these problems won't be reversed over night.

But education is the only hope for changing many of the dreadful conditions children face on most reservations, including poverty, high unemployment, and health risks.

So let's look at the best practices at reservation schools that are doing well from more intense teacher training, to tutoring programs and school-sponsored powwows and apply them to struggling schools.

Perhaps most important, it's necessary to engage parents in the classroom and teach them how to help their children succeed.

Meanwhile, non-reservation schools have their own challenges.

It's going to take a lot of work to meet the goal of 100 percent of students testing proficient in reading and math by 2014.

In fact, that number may not even be attainable.

But we know that the current numbers must improve.

It's encouraging that so many Montana schools are showing progress. We're grateful to the teachers, administrators and community members whose work is reflected in the improving trend.

Now we have to ensure that all students on and off reservations share in that success.


— Editorial
Great Falls Tribune
2005-08-21
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