Carrabec High School in Anson was labeled one of Maine’s 10 worst-performing schools in 2010 because of a single measurement: a standardized test.

Federal law didn’t consider other important factors, including the doubling of students advancing to college and other academic programs after graduation, during the previous five years.

On Friday, President Obama said he is changing the federal law known as No Child Left Behind, which determines how every public school student’s academic ability is measured. He said he will give states the flexibility to devise their own ways of measuring students’ progress.

In terms of federal education policy, Obama’s announcement is “the biggest step since No Child Left Behind was adopted,” said Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. “There are some significant pieces in here that create a significant amount of flexibility.”

School officials and teachers have called for improvement to No Child Left Behind since it became law in 2002.

The law “did not match the reality of what was actually going on in the real world,” said Ken Coville, superintendent of School Administrative District 74, which serves Anson, Embden, Solon and New Portland.

No Child Left Behind has been up for reauthorization since 2007, and Congress has not renewed it. Many states have requested exemption from certain provisions, including one that requires students to have 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014 — or their schools will face harsh penalties.

After lobbying congressional leaders for nearly two years, the White House effectively bypassed Congress with Friday’s executive action.

“Congress hasn’t been able to do it. So I will,” Obama said during a televised speech in Washington, D.C.

Schools need to teach in ways that improve students’ performance, not focus energy on testing requirements, Obama said. Academic improvement is measured in more ways than a test, he said.

The academic achievement goals set by the original law “were admirable, and President Bush deserves credit for that,” Obama said. “Higher standards are the right goal. Accountability is the right goal. Closing the achievement gap is the right goal.”

But, Obama said, the law had “some serious flaws.” Teachers are too focused on teaching to tests, and subjects like history and science are being neglected because the achievement tests focus on math and reading.

The Maine Department of Education and Maine school leaders will now devise a plan for measuring students’ achievement, Bowen said. The state has two chances to submit its request for flexibility to the U.S. Department of Education: by Nov. 14 or mid-February.

Achievement could now be measured in terms of how students learn over time, instead of how they perform on one test, Bowen said. It could be measured by examining students’ portfolios of work. Other factors could include schools’ graduation rates.

The new accountability system will “look more broadly and not just how well students do on a test, but are they getting a well-rounded education? Are they developing 21st-century skills?” Bowen said.

States must show they will meet certain requirements before the federal education department will grant waiver requests. According to the federal government, states must:

• Adopt “college- and career-ready” benchmarks, which Maine did when it approved the Common Core standards. The federal standards outline skills that students should master in each grade.

• Establish systems that reward the highest-achieving schools serving low-income students. And districts must act to turn around low-performing schools.

• Set basic guidelines on how teachers and principals will be evaluated. Multiple measures will be used to determine educators’ performance, including students’ progress.

Chris Galgay, president of the Maine Education Association, the state’s union for teachers, said he supports Obama’s announcement, with some caution.

“We like it’s allowing the state some flexibility,” Galgay said. But he wants to learn more about students’ data being used to evaluate teachers.

“We want to make sure our teachers are being evaluated with valid and multiple measurements,” he said.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud welcomed Obama’s announcement. Both said they are disappointed that Congress hasn’t acted to revamp No Child Left Behind, and that Obama’s action is needed to aid states such as Maine.

But Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine expressed concern that Obama’s decision to grant states waivers might make it even more difficult for lawmakers to forge a consensus over how to overhaul the entire education law.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Erin Rhoda can be contacted at 612-2368 or at: [email protected]

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: [email protected]