HELENA - State and federal education officials reached a compromise on Montana's No Child Left Behind benchmarks Monday, the deadline for the state to comply or risk losing some of its funding.
The compromise lowers the state's 2010-2011 goals to measure adequate yearly progress, called Annual Measurable Objectives, which aim for 100 percent student proficiency in reading and math by 2014.
The deal eliminates the U.S. Department of Education's threat to withhold at least a portion of the state's share of Title I, Part A funds, which amounts to about $44.6 million this year.
Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Denise Juneau had requested a waiver from the increasing Annual Measurable Objectives, saying the law was outdated and broken. That prompted federal education officials to issue a formal notice last month that the state was out of compliance with its requirements and that it could lose part of its Title I money.
Juneau announced the compromise in a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan dated Monday. In it, she maintained her displeasure with the law and its benchmarks, calling them "arbitrary and unfounded."
"If the game of basketball operated like NCLB, every student, despite her or his athletic ability or interest, must make the team; and then, the only way a student can score points is by a slam dunk," Juneau wrote.
Instead, Juneau continued, "we should increase our expectations by measuring student growth and celebrate improvement when it occurs."
Federal education officials did not have immediate comment on Monday.
Under the law's original Annual Measurable Objectives, 92 percent of Montana schoolchildren were supposed to be proficient in reading and 84 percent were supposed to be proficient in math by the 2010-2011 school year.
But the students last school year tested 83 percent in reading and 68 percent in math
The compromise puts the objectives for the year at 84.4 percent in reading and 70 percent in math.
Under the deal, 16 additional public schools don't meet the federal law's objectives. If the original goals had stood, 155 more schools would have fallen short, Juneau said.
Out of the 821 public schools in the state, 228 are not making adequate yearly progress under the federal law, Office of Public Instruction spokeswoman Allyson Hagen said.
The respite may be brief.
Under the revised plan, proficiency in reading in Montana is supposed to jump next school year from 84.4 percent to 89.6 percent. Math proficiency is supposed to increase by an even greater amount, from 70 percent to 80 percent.
Plus, the goal of 100 percent proficiency in both subject areas by 2014 remains.
Asked if these were attainable goals, Hagen said, "Superintendent Juneau has said she wants to take this year by year."
Juneau has proposed the state adopt by 2014 new standards developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers instead of the No Child Left Behind benchmarks. She called the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Math higher, clearer and more rigorous than current standards.