KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri was among five additional states granted waivers Friday from the federal No Child Left Behind requirement that all students have grade-level proficiency in math and reading by 2014.
Instead, Missouri education officials will track schools' progress by relying on a state-developed accreditation system that dates to 1993. The latest version of the Missouri School Improvement Program is designed to ensure all students graduate from high school ready for college and careers - part of a big federal push. It requires higher test scores in some subjects and for schools to track things like how many students succeed in higher-level courses rather than just how many enroll.
"While this is the culmination of the application process, the real effort is just beginning," Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said in a written statement Friday. "Our goal is to ensure that all students graduate from high school college- and career-ready and for Missouri to become one of the top 10 states in education by the year 2020."
Critics have claimed the No Child Left Behind law would eventually make all schools fail. Under the law, schools that miss annual targets and receive federal Title I funds for serving children from economically disadvantaged families face increasing consequences, from paying for tutoring to potential state takeovers. The targets are becoming tougher to meet as 2014 approaches.
After Congress failed to make sought-after changes to the law, President Barack Obama said last fall that states will be allowed to seek a waiver from some of the law's tough proficiency requirements. To obtain the waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, states must meet the Obama administration's conditions.
"While there are some positive aspects to the waiver, we continue to have a number of concerns about it," said Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards' Association, said in a written statement. "We would prefer Congress do what it should have done long ago, that is pass a reauthorization of NCLB without the unrealistic requirements contained in the current law."
Projections released last week suggest the Missouri schools aren't getting off easy. The latest version of the state's accreditation system takes effect this upcoming academic year and won't produce its first official batch of results until 2013. But if the new standards were applied to 2011 data, 57 of the state's 521 districts - about 11 percent - would fall in a low-performing range that would put them at risk of becoming provisionally accredited or unaccredited, up from 21 districts under the old system.
State education officials would review several years of data for low-performing districts and work with them on improvements. But if a district fails year after year, the state Board of Education can reduce its accreditation to provisional or strip it entirely.
Also, fewer schools would be recognized as high achieving, 109 under the new system compared to 332 under the old system.
To receive the waiver, Missouri also was required to begin revamping its system for evaluating teachers.
Other waiver recipients announced Friday are Arkansas, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia. Those states were among 26 states that submitted requests for flexibility in February. The Education Department announced waivers for eight of those states in May. Another 13 are still under review.