But Virginia appears to be seeking an especially significant departure from an accountability system that demands progress each year toward the 2014 target.
Under the law, schools are flagged if any of several groups of students identified by race, ethnicity, poverty or other factors fails to make adequate progress on state tests or certain other measures. Those flagged year after year can face sanctions up to reorganization or closure.
“No Child Left Behind is misidentifying our schools,” said Patricia I. Wright, Virginia superintendent of public instruction. “It is not a reasonable approach.” Nearly two-thirds of Virginia’s schools failed in 2011 to meet the law’s standard for adequate progress.
Critics of Virginia’s proposal worry that it is a retreat from one of the law’s most important aims: unmasking and addressing large achievement gaps among groups of students, including racial and ethnic minorities, poor children, students with disabilities and those who are learning English.
“There’s real reason to be concerned that under the proposed plan, low-income students in Virginia and minority students in Virginia will again be overlooked,” said Andy Rotherham, a former member of the state Board of Education who writes and consults on education issues.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced in the fall that he would waive portions of the law for states that outline alternative plans and agree to certain reforms.
Eleven states have received waivers. Virginia, Maryland and the District are among more than two dozen applicants for a second round, with proposals due Tuesday.
The plans are all different, complicated and tediously replete with acronyms and mathematical formulas. But they are at the heart of a nationwide rethinking about how to rate schools and what remedies should be available for those that perennially struggle.
Virginia proposes static performance targets. Maryland and the District, meanwhile, aim to ratchet up goals in each of the next six years, eventually cutting in half the percentage of non-proficient students — both overall and in each subgroup.
That means Maryland expects about 91 percent of its students to be proficient in math by 2017, and 93 percent in reading. The District, starting with lower passing rates, has lower targets: roughly 74 percent proficient in math by 2017 and 73 percent in reading.
The Education Department will judge waiver applications in the spring. Federal officials can demand changes before granting requests. If approved, plans would take effect next school year.