The Obama administration freed eight states from core provisions of theÂ No Child Left BehindÂ education law on Tuesday, bringing to 19 the number of states granted waivers this year, and officials said that even more states would soon qualify for them.
State officials have clamored in particular for relief from the federal lawâ€™s requirement that every student be proficient in math and English by 2014. TheÂ Department of EducationÂ waived that condition in exchange for an agreement by states to meet new standards â€” in a longer time frame â€” thatÂ Arne Duncan, the education secretary, says are tougher.
Critics of the 2001 law have long said that the universal proficiency requirement was both too vague â€” states set their own definitions for proficiency, and some set them quite low â€” and unattainable. In 2010, 38 percent of the nationâ€™s schools failed to meet their benchmarks for annual progress toward the 2014 goal, and Mr. Duncan has warned that the figure could soar to 80 percent.
The law has been up for renewal since 2007, but Congress has been unable to agree on a new version.
The waivers, like theÂ Race to the TopÂ competition for federal money, have allowed the Obama administration to enact parts of its education agenda without sweeping legislation, prompting some conservatives to complain that it is overstepping its authority.
In a conference call with journalists, Mr. Duncan insisted that he would much rather Congress amended the law.
â€œOur goal with this waiver process, frankly, has always been to get out of the way of states and districts,â€ Mr. Duncan said. â€œStay tuned in the coming weeks. Weâ€™ll be announcing more states.â€
So far, the department has not turned down any stateâ€™s request for a waiver, though it has negotiated the terms with states before granting them. Eighteen additional requests are pending.
The administration has set a goal of having high school graduates be ready for college or careers. It has also called on states to measure teacher performance, and to put increased emphasis on low-performing groups, like students with disabilities or limited knowledge of English, and on the lowest-performing schools.
When a school fails to meet required benchmarks, the No Child Left Behind law requires a series of interventions by the district and the state that can culminate in a state takeover.
With so many schools failing, â€œthat threatened to create an impossible burden on states and districts,â€ said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of theÂ Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which studies education.
The states granted waivers on Tuesday were Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. Earlier this year, waivers were given to Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee.