AUGUSTA – Fewer Maine schools are clearing the ever-rising bar set by No Child Left Behind.

According to a report released Monday by the Maine Department of Education, only 184 of the state’s 608 schools — 30.2 percent — are making “adequate yearly progress” toward the goal of all students reaching proficiency by 2013-14.

Last year, 44 percent of Maine’s schools were designated as “making adequate yearly progress,” based on results from standardized testing the previous year. Two years ago, it was 60 percent.

The number of schools in “continuous improvement priority schools status” — meaning they have not met improvement targets two years in a row — is higher in the new report, at 223. That’s up from 137 last year.

Maine’s students aren’t backsliding; their test scores have held steady in the last five years and have risen in some areas, said Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin.

But those gains haven’t kept pace with the benchmarks set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. For example, this year’s proficiency benchmarks rose by 7 percentage points for 11th-grade reading and 12 percentage points for 11th-grade math.

“We’re on the very steep portion of that curve,” said Rich Abramson, superintendent of Regional School Unit 38. “The first few years that No Child Left Behind was in place, the slope of the progress needing to be made was not as steep as it is now.”

RSU 38’s high school, Maranacook Community High School in Readfield, made adequate yearly progress last year but did not meet reading targets this year and went to “monitor” status.

If schools in “monitor” status meet targets the next year, they return to “making adequate yearly progress.” If they fail to meet targets for a second consecutive year, they go to “continuous improvement” status and are subject to additional state scrutiny.

Many educators believe that No Child Left Behind, the education reform law championed by President George W. Bush, sets unrealistic expectations and must be overhauled. The law has been up for reauthorization since 2007 with no action by Congress.

Late last month, President Obama announced that the federal government would release states from some provisions of No Child Left Behind and allow them to design their own accountability systems.

Maine will submit its application for a waiver by mid-February.

The most significant component of Maine’s application will be a new way of assessing students’ growth, Connery-Marin said, one that involves more than looking at the percentage of students testing at grade level.

“People often ask the question, ‘If you have students who are disadvantaged, or they have disabilities, doesn’t that penalize a school?’ It does, to a certain extent, under the current system,” he said. “We need to look at what kind of progress is being made over the course of the year.”

The department is still in the early stages of writing its waiver application. Last week, state officials answered questions from 96 superintendents and other administrators on a conference call.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen probably will set up a small group inside the department and solicit feedback from around the state, Connerty-Marin said.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at: smcmillan@mainetoday.com