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Betsy DeVos' Team Critiques ESSA Plans for Hawaii, Ky., Neb., N.H., and Wis.

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The U.S. Department of Education is cranking out responses to state's plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act at a fast and furious pace. The latest states to hear back are: Hawaii, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. (Scroll down to see which other states have gotten feedback and who has been approved.)

All five states—whose feedback letters were released Thursday—have work to do on the nuts-and-bolts of the accountability plans, their ideas for identifying and fixing schools, and more. Here's a quick look at some highlights of the responses. Click on the state name to read the full letter.

Hawaii: The department wants the Aloha State to identify languages other than English spoken by a significant number of students. States must "make every effort" to offer tests in those languages, according to ESSA. And Hawaii needs to be more specific about what it will take for a school to get out of low-performing status. Right now, Hawaii says those schools need to make "significant improvement," but it doesn't say what that means. Hawaii also needs to make sure disadvantaged and minority students have access to their fair share of qualified teachers.

Kentucky: Kentucky needs to make sure that its English-language proficiency indicator stands alone—right now, it's lumped in with other indicators in the state's accountability system. The state also needs to make clear that it is targeting  schools as "chronically underperforming" because of the performance of historically overlooked groups of students and not for another reason. And Kentucky cannot include writing test scores as part of a school's overall "academic achievement" score, because those tests aren't offered in every grade.

Nebraska: The Cornhusker State proposed using a minimum number of assessments, rather than students, as its minimum "n-size." That is not OK, according to the department. (Under ESSA, an n-size refers to the number of kids a state has to have from a particular group, like English-language learners, in order for it to matter for accountability purposes.). Nebraska also got hit for its use of so-called "scale scores," which convert student grades to a comparable scale, say of 1 to 100. Other states, including Connecticut, got similar feedback in the first round, but ended up being able to use scale scores with minimal changes to their plans. Nebraska also needs to define what it means for a student to become proficient in English, and make sure that English-language proficiency counts as a separate indicator in its system. And it state needs to provide information about how much weight it is giving each indicator of its accountable system, so that the feds can make sure that academics are given more consideration than other factors.

New Hampshire: New Hampshire needs to be more clear about how it is calculating graduation rates for the purposes of its long-term goals, and identifying schools in need of serious intervention. The Granite State needs to provide information about how much weight it is giving each indicator of its accountable system, so that the feds can make sure that academics are given more consideration than other factors. And New Hampshire needs to spell out its plan for ensuring that disadvantaged students get access to their fair share of effective teachers.

Wisconsin: On paper, the Badger State presents a tough political challenge for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The state's governor, Scott Walker, a Republican and DeVos ally, refused to sign off on the proposal, calling it bureaucratic and unlikely to improve student achievement. The state chief, Tony Evers, who wrote the plan, is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. If he gets it, he could challenge Walker next year.

But the department doesn't appear to have been any tougher on Wisconsin than other states. The department told Wisconsin it needs to better explain how it will use test scores to calculate the "academic achievement" piece of school ratings. Wisconsin has also said it will identify schools as low-performing every six years, but ESSA requires states to do that at least once every three years, the feds say. And Wisconsin needs to spell out its plan for ensuring that disadvantaged students get access to their fair share of effective teachers.

Do states need to take the department's suggestions in order to win approval for their ESSA plans? That's unclear. Some states in the first round of plan submissions didn't make major changes the department asked for and still got the federal stamp of approval. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., an ESSA architect has accused DeVos of approving plans that go outside the bounds of the law.

For those keeping score at home: So far, at least 19 other states that turned in plans this fall—AlabamaAlaska, Florida, Georgia, IowaKansasMaryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, MissouriMontana, New YorkNorth Carolina, OhioSouth DakotaUtah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming—have received feedback from the feds. Puerto Rico has also gotten a response on its plan. (Check out our summaries of their feedback here, here, and here.)

Plus, 15 states and the District of Columbia, all of which submitted plans in the spring, have gotten the all-clear from DeVos. Colorado, which asked for extra time on its application, is the only spring-submission state still waiting for approval.

Want more analysis of ESSA plans? Edweek has you covered here

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