Big changes, such as letter grades for schools based on their performance and a new teacher-evaluation system, are on the way for South Carolina.

Federal officials announced early today that the state’s request to make changes to its accountability system and be freed from some mandates under the federal No Child Left Behind law had been approved.

The state had asked permission to make a number of changes, such as using a new teacher-evaluation system and rating system for schools, and those plans now will be implemented.

South Carolina was one of six states to learn today that their waiver requests were granted, bringing the nationwide total to 32. Other states approved were Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi and Oregon, plus the District of Columbia.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais called the approval a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform” education in the state, and a big step toward his goal of ensuring that every student receives a personalized and customized education.

“Students, parents and the public will know how schools are performing in a clear and easily understood system of letter grades,” he said in a statement. “Teachers and principals will be fairly evaluated using student outcomes as a component, so they can become the most effective educators possible.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday that the state-developed plans had been innovative and rigorous, and he highlighted South Carolina’s new plans to identify its most-challenged schools and develop improvement plans.

He said the federal No Child Left Behind law has been overdue for reauthorization since 2007. The president announced in September 2011 that his administration would grant waivers to certain states, and Duncan said this relieves states of the law’s well- intentioned but sometimes burdensome requirements.

“More and more states can’t wait any longer for education reform” he said in a statement.

Reach Diette Courrégé at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.