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DeVos Team Responds to District of Columbia and Illinois ESSA Plans



The District of Columbia and Illinois received feedback from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on their plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act earlier this week.

The feds' response to those two states represent the first time the U.S. Department of Education has provided feedback since it announced changes to the ESSA review process. The new process includes a phone call department officials will hold with states before finalizing formal feedback letters to states. This change has raised concerns about the transparency of ESSA review.

A department spokesman confirmed that this new process was used for D.C. and Illinois. Here are some highlights from the department's new ESSA feedback.

District of Columbia

  • The department says D.C. can't use tests like the SAT and ACT in its academic achievement indicators. That indicator, the department told D.C., can only rely on state academic asssessments. Other tests can be used to measure school quality and student success.
  • D.C.'s plan to use an alternative method of calculating graduation rates falls afoul of ESSA, the DeVos team said. As with the ACT and SAT tests we mentioned above, the department told the District that this alternative method can be used in the school quality and student success area of D.C.'s accountability system.
  • DeVos' team said D.C. doesn't clearly describe its measure for differentiating school performance.
  • The District's plan for intervening in high schools where less than two-thirds of students graduate doesn't have the level of detail that ESSA requires, according to the department's review.
  • The plan does not include a definition of "consistently underperforming" subgroups of students, the department said.


  • The department says that Illinois has not fully described how it will factor graduation rates into its accountability system. It also says the state is not following ESSA by having more-rigorous goals for graduation rates for cohorts of high school students that extend beyond a four-year window.
  • Illinois has not made it clear if its proposal for measuring academic achievement falls in line with ESSA, due to questions the department has about how the state will factor test participation into measuring achievement.
  • It's unclear if the state's plan for its school quality and student success indicator meets ESSA's requirements, according to DeVos' team.
  • The feds told Illinois that the states' proposed timeline for developing and implementing its measures of progress for students towards English-language proficiency doesn't match what ESSA requires.
  • For school improvement, the department's feedback states that Illinois' plan to identify schools with struggling student subgroups (or schools needing "targeted" support and intervention) does not sufficiently cover all required subgroups. 
  • Illinois also gets dinged for not providing more information as to how it will identify the extent to which low-income and minority students are taught by ineffective, out-of-field, and inexperienced teachers. 

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