On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education announced Alabama and six other states will be allowed to continue opting out of the rigid standards established in the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program.

By implementing “comprehensive, state-designed plans to ensure student success,” the states have been allowed to supplement the highly criticized NCLB standards with individual plans at the state level.

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

“The last six years have seen dramatic progress for America’s school children. The high school dropout rate is down, and graduation rates are higher than they have ever been,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a press release. “As a result of our partnerships with state and district leaders to couple flexibility with reform, we are seeing remarkable strides and bold actions to improve student outcomes. States, districts, principals and teachers are showing incredible creativity in using different means to achieve the same goal — getting every student in America college-and career-ready.”

In 2011, Alabama proposed its own approach to educational accountability — Plan 2020. It was accepted in the summer of 2013. Since then, the USDE has partnered with state and district leaders to provide some relief from some provisions of NCLB.

“Under NCLB, schools were given many ways to fail but very few opportunities to succeed,” a release from the USDE said. “The law forced schools and districts into one-size-fits-all solutions, regardless of the individual needs and circumstances in those communities.”

Some of those provisions included Adequate Yearly Progress standards that previously determined “passing” and “failing” schools. Under NCLB, a school listed as failing continuously could have been taken over by the federal government.

When Alabama’s waiver from NCLB was first approved in 2013, State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice described Plan 2020 as “a rigorous and comprehensive Alabama-developed plan designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity and improve the quality of instruction.”

That focus ultimately paved the way for Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards, otherwise known as Common Core. In addition to greatly expanding the availability of career and technical courses, Plan 2020 has also focused on improving teacher and principal effectiveness through professional training, evaluation and support systems that are used for continual improvement.

Two of Plan 2020’s highlights touted by the USDE were the Principal Leadership Network, which provides a support system of administrators from across the state, and a separate program that allows teachers and school leaders to visit and observe “exemplar schools” that demonstrate strong and effective practices.

With today’s announcement, Alabama has bought an additional three years free from the requirements of NCLB — an option a majority states have taken advantage of.

In all, 42 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have received flexibility from the burdens of the existing law in order to support improved achievement in schools. All states up for renewal have submitted a request to extend their flexibility, and Nebraska recently requested a waiver from the law for the first time ever.

In addition to the states being announced today, the USDE has contemplated renewed flexibility for 26 other states and territories. In the event that Congress reauthorizes Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Department says it plans to work with states to help transition to into a new law. In the meantime, Duncan has called on Congress to create a bipartisan ESEA law that addresses some of the shortcomings of NCLB.