HARRISBURG - The U.S. Education Department granted Pennsylvania a partial waiver from the No Child Left Behind school evaluation law Tuesday, giving state officials the flexibility to develop alternatives they say will yield more meaningful assessments of schools and students.
Pennsylvania is the 41st state to receive a waiver, which eliminates the federal benchmark that relied largely on standardized tests to measure progress toward a national goal of all students reading and doing math at their actual grade level by 2014.
The Obama administration, in a tacit acknowledgement that the goal is unattainable, began offering the waivers last year to states that developed their own federally approved plans for measuring student and teacher performance.
The state Education Department said new, user-friendly "school performance profiles" will combine standardized test scores and attendance, graduation and promotion rates to gauge academic progress at each of the 3,200 school buildings in the state starting this fall.
Also, a new educator evaluation system will use student achievement among other criteria in assessing the performance of teachers starting this year and principals starting in 2014-15.
Schools with a high percentage of low-income students and low academic performance will be assigned special designations that qualify them for intervention and support services.
Gov. Tom Corbett hailed the waiver approval as "welcome news for students, parents, taxpayers, educators and public schools across the state."
"This waiver allows Pennsylvania to focus on improving schools by directing resources to areas that help students academically succeed," he said. "We now have a better way of guiding improvement efforts in schools by establishing ambitious, yet attainable, goals."
Wythe Keever, spokesman for the state's largest teacher union, said the waiver is "a step in the right direction," but that replacing the so-called AYP benchmark with multiple measures of student achievement won't solve the statewide need for more education funding,
"If you don't provide adequate resources for teachers and schools, it's like asking [teachers] to spin straw into gold," said Keever, of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the waivers are required because Congress has not finished a rewrite of the 2002 law, which expired in 2007. Some of its goals proved too ambitious, including that all students be working at grade level by 2014.