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Montana decided to skip a planned increase in its testing goals this past school year.

“I don’t mind the goals, and we’re certainly not afraid of accountability. They can set the bar wherever they want. They just have to let us have the flexibility to get there,” Ms. Juneau said. “We can definitely meet any bar they throw at us.”

The chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said he understands why it was time for the administration to take action.

“This Congress faces real challenges reaching bipartisan, bicameral agreement on anything,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat. “Given the ill-advised and partisan bills that the House majority has chosen to move, I understand SecretaryDuncan’s decision to proceed with a waiver package to provide some interim relief while Congress finishes its work.”

Mr. Harkin said he remains committed to keep working toward a bipartisan solution to reform the federal education law.