NASHVILLE (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday that Tennessee is seeking a waiver to use its revamped education standards to measure schools instead of those mandated by No Child Left Behind, the nation's governing education law.
The Republican governor and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman told reporters in a conference call that the federal standards no longer serve the interest of education reform in Tennessee.
Recent changes made by the state — such as a measure signed into law this year that would make it tougher for teachers to obtain and keep tenure — allowed the state to win $500 million in the national Race to the Top education grant competition.
"We're making significant progress in education, and we believe that since we lead the country in the amount of data we collect, and are making a lot of progress with implementing meaningful reforms, that we are capable of using what we've learned from No Child Left Behind to measure ourselves in a rigorous way," Haslam said.
He added that he once preferred overhauling No Child Left Behind, "but indications out of Washington are that that doesn't seem likely anytime soon."
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has warned that 82 percent of U.S. schools could be labeled failures next year if the federal regulations aren't changed.
Haslam also released results Friday that show only about half of Tennessee schools made "annual yearly progress," or AYP, under No Child Left Behind.
Earlier this month, preliminary results from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program showed math scores in third- through eighth-grade improved by 7 percent this year over last year and reading scores improved by 3.7 percent.
In 18 school systems, student scores improved by 20 percent or more.
Despite the improvement, the state is only 41 percent proficient in math for those grades, and 48.5 percent in reading. Under guidelines of No Child Left Behind, the state is required to be 60 percent proficient in math next year, 66 percent in reading, and 100 percent in both subjects by 2014.
Haslam noted Friday that even though many schools didn't meet the federal guidelines, they still made improvement.
"Our accountability system should ensure that local districts are empowered to manage their schools against ambitious goals," he said. "In short we need to get away from punitive mandates, particularly for schools in districts that are really making progress, as most of our schools are."
Neither Haslam nor Huffman could say what the response would be to their request.
"I think they know where we're coming from," Haslam said. "I know several other states are talking about it."