Wyoming’s latest attempt to pause the clock on mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act met approval from the U.S. Department of Education this month, as the agency granted the state’s request to freeze its proficiency goals for a year.

Without such relief, even Wyoming’s highest performing schools would soon be labeled as failing under the current federal system.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 holds schools accountable to proficiency targets that increase annually until they reach 100 percent. At that point, every tested student is expected to score at or above proficient in every subject area on a state test. That target, according to the legislation, is supposed to be met by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

“Those targets have escalated to the point where they’re probably somewhat unrealistic,” said David Holbrook, administrator of public programs at the Wyoming Department of Education. “Freezing our targets ... is a more reasonable measure than continuing on and using the targets that have been escalating over the years.”

The U.S. Department of Education uses the proficiency targets, called annual measurable objectives, to decide whether schools are making adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind. Schools that don’t achieve annual yearly progress for two or more consecutive years can be subject to federal funding restrictions.

Under Wyoming’s target freeze approved Aug. 6, the U.S. Department of Education will measure Wyoming schools for the 2012-13 school year by its 2011-12 proficiency goals. For Wyoming high school students taking the state assessment, that’s a goal of about 75 percent of students at or above proficient in reading and language arts, and 70 percent in mathematics, according to the agency.

Without the freeze, those targets would require all students in Wyoming be proficient or advanced in every content area on the state’s Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students in grades three through eight and the ACT in grade 11 by the end of the current school year.

The move relieves pressure on teachers and districts working with students less likely to test proficient, such as English as a Second Language learners and severely cognitively disabled students, Holbrook said.

“It allows [teachers] to actually teach what would be helpful to the student, not what they would need to pass some content tests,” he said.

States nationwide have been systematically applying for waivers to opt out of parts of the federal program and use instead their own state-developed accountability systems. Wyoming initially applied for that waiver in February, but decided in July to postpone its application for a year until its own accountability system is ready, according to an agency release.

Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have applied for and been granted flexibility from mandates of No Child Left Behind since Secretary of Education Arne Duncan invited states to do so, according to the U.S. Department of Education. California, Montana and North Dakota are the only three states not requesting flexibility, while Vermont withdrew its application, according to the agency.

Reach county reporter Leah Todd at 307-266-0592 or leah.todd@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @leahktodd.

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