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Back-to-school season arrives with the hope and possibilities of a new academic year, but it can also bring feelings of dread as communities brace for test results measuring adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

The MCA statewide exams that determine the federally required AYP are expected to be released soon. Last year, just more than half of the state’s 2,000 schools and 297 of 340 districts were “failing” by AYP standards. The new results likely won’t be any better.

However, this year, parents and educators have reason to be hopeful that there may soon be less of that negative labeling now that Minnesota has applied for waivers from the federal No Child Left Behind law.

At the same time, that relief doesn’t mean state schools can relax and be satisfied with current levels of student achievement. Backing away from some provisions of NCLB rules must not be an excuse to fall back into business as usual.

Despite its many faults, the federal law did shine a much-needed light on major problems in education. It exposed huge learning disparities among different groups of students. And it showed higher-performing states like Minnesota that they still have a lot of work to do to educate all kids.

In August, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said his department would grant waivers to release states from some of the most difficult provisions of NCLB. 

The secretary proposed exemptions, but he rightly expects reasonable reform efforts in return. 

Minnesota has applied for waivers in only two areas of the law. 

The federal department should grant waivers to states that have solid plans and demonstrated success. And it should refrain from substituting equally unproductive new regulations for those contained in NCLB.

If waivers or changes in federal law come with fewer requirements, states and local districts will still have the responsibility to replace those rules with strong, reasonable standards.