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Trump Ed. Dept.: High-Achieving Massachusetts Has Some ESSA Work to Do


Massachusetts may be considered one of the highest-flying states when it comes to academic achievement, but the Bay State has work to do to flesh out its plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, according to recent feedback from the U.S. Department of Education. (Read the department's July 7 letter to Massachusetts here.)

Quick background: The department—led by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a self-professed fan of local control—has come under fire from states and their advocates for going overboard when it comes to providing feedback on state ESSA plans.

The biggest offense so far, in the eyes of local control advocates: Telling Delaware that its goals for student achievement weren't "ambitious" enough. That critique went beyond the bounds of the law, which prohibits the department from telling states what goals they can or cannot set, according to Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. To assuage states, the department released a guidance document saying, essentially, that the feedback letters are just suggestions and states don't have to take the feds' critiques to heart.

It's unclear if Massachusetts' feedback letter will spur more wonky outrage and confusion.

One possible point of contention: The department asked for more information on how the state plans to figure out whether students are successfully completing "broad and challenging coursework." Massachusetts wants to include that in its school ratings and measure it using Advanced Placement exams, International Baccalaureate tests, and honors classes. The department said that not all kids have access to those courses and tests, and therefore Massachusetts's plan may not be kosher under ESSA.

But it's not clear if the department is being consistent in the feedback it gives to states who want to use AP, IB, or dual enrollment in their systems. Delaware and Massachusetts were told using such factors may not fly. But other states that have gotten feedback on their plans—Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, and Tennessee—also want to measure college readiness using AP, IB, dual enrollment, career certification, or some mixture of those factors. And that didn't seem to raise bureaucratic eyebrows for those states.

The department also wants Massachusetts to:

Reminder: So far, seventeen states and the District of Columbia have turned in their ESSA plans. The department has 120 days to give them the thumbs up or down. The feds are giving states an early look at areas of their plans that may need fleshing out, or may not comply with the law. Three states—Delaware, Nevada, and New Mexico—received feedback in June. And another five states—Connecticut, Louisiana, New Jersey, Oregon, and Tennessee, got their letters June 30.  More state feedback letters are expected soon. 

Just want to understand ESSA basics? We've got the video you need right here. 

Video: ESSA Explained in 3 Minutes

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