CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia schools are now free to ignore much of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.
The U.S. Department of Education granted West Virginia's request for a flexibility waiver Monday, accepting instead a state-developed plan for the state's education system.
That plan includes a new method for classifying school performance -- instead of simple distinctions between schools whose test scores indicate which are making progress and which are not, the new plan will sort schools into five groups based on performance.
Officials think the narrower distinctions will mean more transparency regarding school performance, and the power to funnel extra funding to schools that need it most.
State School Superintendent Jim Phares said the state already has identified 32 low-performing schools under the new guidelines. Those schools -- which the state is now calling "priority schools" -- should be announced later this week.
Annual performance reports will "provide a more comprehensive picture of where a school is meeting expectations and where it's not," Phares said.
The centerpiece of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act was the idea that all students should be able to score at least "proficient" on state standardized tests by 2014 -- a goal that is now largely seen as unfeasible.
Under the old guidelines, schools were mainly judged by whether they were making "adequate yearly progress" toward that proficiency goal. The focus on adequate yearly progress -- and the severity of the consequences if schools fail to meet those annual benchmarks -- has long been the focus of scorn from the law's detractors.
Under the waiver, schools will be judged based on progress in several areas, instead of a blanket pass or fail. They also will be recognized for growth on any level.
State officials are touting the waiver as a bottom-up approach to counter the top-heavy nature of the federal law.
"Our plan will provide flexibility for our school systems, allowing them to find ways to meet their needs," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Monday at a press briefing.