Goodbye, No Child Left Behind.
Missouri on Friday became one of 24 states that have earned waivers from the federal education law when the U.S. Department of Education approved the state's proposed accountability system to push schools to high performance.
Kansas has also applied for a waiver, but its request is still pending.
The No Child Left Behind Act was becoming an overbearing standard for schools because of its most notable requirement that all students in all ethnic, socio-economic and special education subgroups be performing at proficient or advanced levels by 2014. Nearly nine out of 10 Missouri schools were no longer meeting the federal standard.
While efforts to retool the law continue in Congress, the Obama administration began giving states the option to propose their own accountability systems, with the demand that they demonstrate plans to make all students career- or college-ready, focus resources on the neediest schools and students, and strengthen teaching and leadership.
States were pleading for relief from the federal law's sanctions, while claiming they could establish more effective ways to measure and improve schools.
"Our goal was to get out of the way," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a conference call with reporters.
Missouri has been monitoring and grading its schools through its Missouri School Improvement Program, which has been increasing its standards in cycles since the 1990s. The state was developing its fifth cycle of standards and incorporated that into its waiver request, along with its pilot Missouri Educator Evaluation System.
They are major components of the state's Top 10 by 20 campaign that aims to place Missouri in the Top 10 in the nation in major education performance measures by 2020.
"While this is the culmination of the application process," Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said in a statement Friday, "the real effort is just beginning."
One major concern among many advocacy groups has been that states might ease off the attention that the federal law forced schools to give to students in minority and special-needs subgroups. But Duncan believes that states earning waivers, including Missouri, are increasing their accountability to these students.
"We feel very good about the direction these states are taking," he said.
In many Missouri schools, student performances in subgroups weren't separated out because for statistical and privacy reasons, a subgroup had to have at least 30 students to be counted. Missouri's waiver will combine subgroups that have historically performed below the state total to create a "Student Gap Group" that will weigh into a school's performance score.
Under the current law, about 85 percent of the state's schools have reportable subgroups, the state reports. Under its waiver, Missouri will be combining groups and using three years of data to report subgroups in 98 percent of its schools.
The schools and districts will no longer face federal sanctions when their subgroups fall short of the performance benchmarks, but the state will continue to gather and publish the test data.
"It's not about sanctions," said Margie Vandeven, the assistant Missouri education commissioner in the office of quality schools. "It's about supporting rigorous programs ... The public needs to understand how schools are performing. Not by labeling them, but by reporting (their performance data)."
While Missouri will publish the test performance and graduation rates of all subgroups, the plan to combine subgroups in the overall accountability score troubles some advocates.
Schools may not have the same incentive to address the different needs between groups such as low-income students and English language learners, or between black students and Hispanic students, said Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy development for the Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust.
One of the strengths of No Child Left Behind, Hall said, was that "it created the expectation that if you were to be considered a high-achieving school, you had to assure that all students were achieving. You were not able to mask achievement gaps."
"It's absolutely important that educators, advocates and families keep holding states' feet to the fire," she said.
While the state will be free of No Child Left Behind immediately, it will phase in its new plan over the next three years.
In the meantime, school districts will continue to be scored under the current Missouri School Improvement Program and the 14 standards that school districts see measured in their annual performance reports. The state performance tests in the Missouri Assessment Program -- or MAP -- will carry on as before.
That means little change for Kansas City Public Schools' joint effort with the state to regain its accreditation. The district has until June 2014 to regain its status before the state could take over its board, and its targets remain the same.
Once the new Missouri School Improvement Program is in place, districts will be scored on a 150-point scale, with a possible 64 points for test performance, 16 for subgroup performance, 30 for college and career-readiness measures, 10 for attendance rates and 30 for graduation rates.
Districts scoring 135 or better would earn accreditation with distinction. A score of 105 earns full accreditation. A district would have to score at least 75 to be provisionally accredited.
Most districts, 89 percent, would be fully accredited based on 2011 data, a preliminary impact study showed. Nearly 10 percent would be provisionally accredited and 1.4 percent would be unaccredited.
The state promises that the new standards will be steeper, and area superintendents say they welcome the higher state bar.
It will serve as an effective measure of public schools without No Child Left Behind's labels and sanctions, said Raytown Superintendent Allan Markley.
"No Child Left Behind was a punitive device," he said. "We're still going to have accountability ... that's fair and consistent."
Some of the penalties that created alternative education options for families will go away because of the waiver.
Under the old law, schools that had failed to make adequate yearly progress for two or more years had to give families the option to transfer to other schools in the same district.
A spokeswoman for the state said students who have previously transferred under the law will be allowed to remain in their new school, but districts no longer will have to provide transportation.
Schools under sanctions also will no longer be required to spend part of their federal Title I dollars on outside supplemental after-school education programs. Districts will have more discretion in deciding where to focus those funds.
Now school districts will be able to better manage resources and see less duplication of programs, said Grandview Superintendent Ralph Teran.
"No Child Left Behind had a lot of great intentions," Teran said. "But it was time to reset and repair things."