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North Dakota the Latest State to Win ESSA-Plan Approval


U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Friday afternoon approved North Dakota's accountability plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. 

In a press release, the department noted the state's extensive stakeholder-engagement process and the way its accountability system incorporates school climate and student engagement.  

Education Week visited North Dakota earlier this summer for a statewide ESSA summit where state education department representatives explained to a conference room full of district teacher leaders, principals, and district superintendents details of the plan that  had just been submitted.  

From the story

North Dakota schools will, arguably, experience some of the nation's most dramatic changes under the new law.

The state's plan, according to experts who have reviewed it, pushes the boundaries of state flexibility. Some of those experts have warned North Dakota officials that the plan will likely be rejected during the federal Education Department's peer-review process, which has just begun.

Under the plan, school districts would not be required to identify ineffective teachers, as the law requires, but instead would identify how much "ineffective teaching" occurs at a school.

North Dakota would not academically rank its 517 public schools, and all of its schools, rather than just a handful, would be categorized as needing "continuous improvement." Under the plan, the 13 worst-performing schools would receive more federal dollars and be provided with school turnaround consultants, but there would be no state takeovers or firings of staff members.

The plan also would cap at 10 percent the number of schools the state labels as having persistently underperforming groups of students of color and students with special needs--even though state officials admit that many more schools would likely qualify for intervention under federal guidelines.

Most of the state's efforts at school turnarounds would be outsourced to AdvancED, a national school accreditor, and the School Improvement Network, a private school-turnaround agency.

In the federal department's initial review of the plan, the department took issue with the state's definition of ineffective teachers, and several portions of its school accountability system, noting that it did not comply with the law.  

But elected state Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said on the phone earlier this week that she didn't plan to make any major changes to her plan and said the department had asked for only more information to how North Dakota's department planned to implement the policies. 

"I think the questions that they asked allowed us to provide clear articulation and ultimately made our plan stronger and better," Baesler said.  "I'm grateful for their assistance."

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