U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings on Nov. 18 announced a pilot program through which qualified states can submit proposals for developing growth models of assessment that follow the principles of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

The announcement, which Spellings made in Richmond, Va., during an address to the Council of Chief State School Officers’ Annual

Policy Forum, marks a significant policy shift in how federal officials interpret the testing requirements of NCLB.

A growth model of assessment is a system of measuring individual students’ academic improvement as they advance from grade to grade. Current NCLB rules force states to measure schools’ performance by comparing the scores of last year’s eighth-graders, for example, with this year’s group.

Many educators believe a growth model offers a more accurate way to gauge student performance–and a fairer way for schools to be held accountable for their success.

As part of the pilot, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) this year will approve up to 10 states’ proposals for assessing student progress using a growth model.

If the pilot program catches on, it could open the door for more flexibility in how states must measure their schools’ performance under NCLB.

“A growth model is not a way around accountability standards. It’s a way for states that are already raising achievement and following the bright-line principles of the law to strengthen accountability,” Spellings warned.