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Betsy DeVos' Team Asks Seven States for More ESSA Specifics


Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming are the latest states to receive feedback on their plans for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The U.S. Department of Education staffers seem to be burning the midnight oil on feedback letters lately. Four other states—Georgia, Maryland, Puerto Rico, and Utah—got responses last week. Every state has submitted a plan to implement ESSA. And 15 states and the District of Columbia have had their plans approved.

So what do the latest letters say? They are extensive and almost all of them ask for a lot more detail on testing, school turnarounds, accountability, goals, teacher distribution, and more.

Here's a quick look at some highlights.  Click on the state name to read the full letter.

Alabama: The department wants to state to make its student achievement goals clearer, and better explain how student growth on state tests would be used to calculate a school's academic score. And the feds aren't clear on how Alabama will calculate English-language proficiency and incorporate it into school ratings—an ESSA must. The state also needs to make it clear that it will flag schools that don't get federal Title I money for extra supports with subgroups of students.

Alaska: Alaska needs to provide much more detail about how it will calculate academic achievement, graduation rates, and English-language proficiency. And the feds are worried that Alaska's system of identifying the bottom 5 percent of schools isn't sufficient, so some low-performing schools won't get the help they need. Maybe most importantly, Alaska's plan for flagging schools with low-performing subgroups of students isn't very fleshed out. It will be based on "to-be-determined" targets. The department wants Alaska to fill in the blanks on those performance levels. And, like other states, Alaska needs to be more specific about how it will make sure poor children get their fair share of qualified teachers.

Kansas: Kansas' plan is missing quite a bit of information, according to the feds. The state must provide specific interim targets for student achievement, in addition to its big, overarching goal, the feds say. The department also wants Kansas to explain how it plans to calculate schools' academic ratings and how it plans to consider school quality and student success. Kansas also needs to better explain how much consideration it is giving to things like test scores and graduation rates, as opposed to chronic absenteeism. Kansas should move up its timelines for flagging schools for extra help, according to the department. And it needs rework its methodology for identifying schools where historically overlooked students aren't performing well.

Montana: The feds are asking for a long list of specific details on Montana's plans to measure academic achievement, graduation rates, English-language proficiency, and more. The department is also not sure that Montana's plans for identifying the lowest-performing schools and deciding when they are no longer low-performing are compliant with ESSA. And the agency needs much more from Montana on pinpointing more serious interventions for schools that perennially fail to improve.

North Carolina: The feds want the Tar Heel State to clear up some key details of its accountability system, including how academic and school quality indicators will be measured and how much weight they will carry. The state also needs to move up its timelines for identifying schools in need of extra help, according to the department. And North Carolina needs to require schools to show continued progress before they can move out of low-performing status, the feds say. North Carolina also needs to work on its plans for ensuring that poor kids have access to their fair share of effective teachers and resources.

South Dakota: The feds want more specifics from South Dakota on its methodology for identifying schools with consistently underperforming groups of students. And the agency wants more information about how South Dakota plans to make sure disadvantaged children get access to their fair share of quality teachers. The feds are also unsure if South Dakota's plan for measuring English-language proficiency meets ESSA's requirements.

Wyoming: Wyoming needs to flesh out its plans for accountability in a host of areas, including how it will calculate graduation rates, schools' academic success, and progress in attaining English-language proficiency, the feds say. The department also wants more specifics on how Wyoming will calculate the weight of different accountability indicators, and decide when low-performing schools no longer need help. The feds are also unclear if Wyoming plans to flag schools for extra help every three years, as ESSA requires.

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 submissioins States 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.

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

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