HARTFORD -- Hoping to build the strongest case it can for a waiver of the federal No Child Left Behind act, the state Department of Education has posted a notice on its website asking for comments.

The request comes as a Feb. 21 deadline to apply for the waiver approaches.

Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, along with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, have stated repeatedly over the past few months that the state is planning to take the U.S. Department of Education up on its offer to give states flexibility to focus more on improving student learning and less on test preparation.

More than 40 states have or plan to apply for flexibility waivers.

The decade-old No Child Left Behind Act requires annual testing of students and penalizes schools and districts that are not on a path to 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014. The requirement called for proficiency of all students, regardless of race, family income, disability or their ability to speak English. Although many credit the law with boosting instruction, particularly in the area of special education, others say subjects not tested -- such as social studies and the arts -- have been marginalized as schools work to keep themselves off lists of schools "failing" to meet the strict demands of the law. With the deadline two years away, more than 46 percent of schools and 26 percent of school districts in the state are not making adequate yearly progress toward that goal.

To get the waiver, the state has to develop a rigorous and comprehensive plan to improve educational outcomes for all students, close the achievement gap, increase equity and improve the quality of instruction.

Connecticut officials said in their website announcement that getting relief from some of the mandates will help with plans to address achievement gaps between rich and poor students and between white students and their minority counterparts.

The governor is preparing to unveil a number of proposals to improve the state's lackluster standing on most educational measures early next month. Major areas will include evaluating and improving the effectiveness of teachers and administrators; reducing duplication and red tape that make it difficult for some districts to launch local reforms; and ensuring all graduates are ready for college and careers.

Allan Taylor, chairman of the State Board of Education, said the improvement plan will be aggressive and focused. He said the NCLB law requires "fairly draconian steps in an increasingly large percentage of our schools that just aren't appropriate."

He said seeking a waiver makes sense.

Patrick Riccards, head of ConnCAN, an education reform advocacy group based in New Haven, said the state's request for input is required under the waiver law.

"We have to recognize that Connecticut is far behind the curve here in what the U.S. Department of Education is asking for," Riccards said.

To get a waiver, Riccards said school improvement efforts have to be focused on the lowest 15 percent of schools in the state and it has to establish a teacher evaluation process that is based in part on student performance.

To help the department develop and refine its proposal, those interested can submit suggestions to title1waivers@ct.gov.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.