Increased flexibility and additional assessment alternatives announced by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings are the correct steps for...

Increased flexibility and additional assessment alternatives announced by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings are the correct steps for helping states implement the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The law’s emphasis on school improvement and a refusal to let disparities in minority and low-income student achievement hide behind statewide averages are the law’s beauty. Detrimental to its effectiveness, however, has been a one-size-fits-all approach to setting national standards.
From now on, results will count more than the methods schools use to achieve them. This is common sense. Adding flexibility to federal education reform recognizes that every child learns differently. It is also a recognition that results ought to count more than the methods used to achieve them.

States raising student achievement and narrowing the achievement gap will be given extra room to tailor parts of the law to better meet their needs. Spellings rewards progress by making the increased flexibility available only to states making strides in the following: getting all children reading by third grade; undertaking high-school reform, and preparing students for college.

Alternative tests for students with disabilities is another bit of flexibility. The federal law has always allowed students with significant learning disabilities to be evaluated separately, but now the narrow pool broadens to include more students with academic disabilities.

States will have to show improvements in special-education instruction and assessment before taking advantage of the additional latitude.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, and school districts in a handful of states — Washington, thankfully, is not one of them — are suing the Department of Education over NCLB.

Extra flexibility might be seen by some as an attempt to mollify critics. But from the start, federal education officials have acknowledged NCLB’s imperfections. More tweaks are in the offing.

Injecting some breathing space into NCLB is not a sign of retreat on the law’s promise. It is a smart effort to help states implement the law.