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Schools exceed some state averages

| August 24, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

Libby public schools not only passed their most recent tests required by the No Child Left Behind Act, but local students placed well above state averages in most reading and math categories.

"It's a good feeling," Superintendent Kirby Maki said.

He noted that Libby public schools ranked among some of Montana's lowest according to test results three or four years ago.

"We've made progress," he said. "Now we're right there with the state average, and in some areas we are way above everybody else."

Asa Wood Elementary School, Libby Middle School, and Libby High School each was certified recently by the state Office of Public Instruction as making adequate yearly progress toward goals required under President Bush's education measure. Those rankings stem from test results given in March to students in fourth, eighth and tenth grades.

At the elementary level, the statewide average for students achieving proficiency in reading was 44.6 percent. However, 50 percent of Asa Wood students earned proficient level.

In elementary math testing, Asa Wood placed 46.5 percent of students in the proficient category while the state average was 38.4 percent. Asa Wood students also beat the state average in the percentage of those at or above proficient in math by a 60.5 percent to 56.5 percent margin.

At the middle school level, eighth-grade students statewide and those in Libby earned similar 30 percent proficiency ratings in reading. But 42 percent of Libby's middle school students earned advanced ratings in reading while the state average was 32.7 percent.

Libby Middle School recorded 50.4 percent proficiency in math compared to the state average of 46.9 percent.

Libby High School sophomores were well above the state average of 35.9 percent proficiency in reading with an overall mark of 50.7 percent. Libby High School's math results showed 41.4 percent at proficiency level, more than 6 percentage points above the state average.

Maki said Libby School District staff has worked hard on reading and math lately, but also is progressing in science and social studies.

"We have been at that for some time," he said. "We have all kinds of interventions for kids to get them back on track at all grade levels."

The superintendent credited a grant program called Reading First for making a big improvement in children's reading scores. The district has refined its curriculum to go along with the program, which enters its third year of funding this fall.

"We have solidified our curriculum, and that along with our teachers and teachers' strategies have made the difference," Maki said.

Asa Wood Elementary School Principal Ken Foss said Reading First is "a huge piece" of why children scored so well on reading tests. He credited district curriculum director Jael Prezeau with securing the grant for Reading First.

Among other things, the school implemented 90-minute uninterrupted reading blocks. Reading coaches were added at the middle school as well as at Asa Wood, Foss said. The district committed to taking the program from kindergarten to sixth grade although Reading First only provided grant funding for kindergarten through third grade.

"We gave it total emphasis," Foss said. "We see a need for more than K-3."

Now, teachers assess children's progress regularly according to strict guidelines spelled out in Reading First.

Another critical step in boosting reading skills came when the district added full-day kindergarten, Foss said, adding that the earliest grades are most important in learning to read. The emphasis on reading also helps in other curriculum areas that are integrated with the reading curriculum, he said.

"That's why we went to full-day kindergarten, to give us more time to work with those kids," he said. "Now we have five full-time kindergarten teachers. It was one of the best things we've done for kids since I've been here in Libby."