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Betsy DeVos Greenlights ESSA Plans for Alabama, Colorado, and Kentucky

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Alabama, Colorado, and Kentucky are the latest states to get the Every Student Succeeds Act seal of approval from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

This brings the total number of states with approved ESSA plans to 42, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Some big population centers, including Florida and California, are still waiting for the thumbs-up from the department.

Alabama picked both of the two most popular indicators—chronic absenteeism and college- and career-readiness—as ways to measure school quality and student success alongside test scores. Under Alabama's plan, students can be considered college- or career-ready if they score a 3, 4, or 5 on an Advanced Placement exam, earn postsecondary credit while in high school; earn 4, 5, 6 or 7 on an International Baccalaureate exam; score at the silver level or above on ACT Work Keys; receive an industry credential, or get accepted into any branch of the military. The state has said it wants to help improve teacher quality and distribution in part by continuing to develop the Alabama Teacher Mentoring program, which is aimed at supporting teachers during their first two years on the job. Alabama also wants to create five- and 10-year "professional learning plans" to guide teacher development across the state.

Colorado waited longer than any other state so far to get the department's seal of approval. The state turned in its plan way back in May of last year at the first submission deadline. One possible reason it took this long to get the department's blessing? The state's plan for handling testing opt-outs. Colorado, an epicenter of the opt-out movement, has a state law that prohibits schools from coercing parents into testing their kids. (Oregon has something similar on the books.)

The feds didn't like Colorado's original plan for handling opt-outs, in part because the state was reluctant to penalize schools with low test-participation rates. So, in a draft plan submitted in February, Colorado agreed that, if a school's participation rate dips below 95 percent, it would count non-test takers as "not proficient" for federal accountability purposes, which is already an ESSA requirement. Schools would also have to come up with a plan for boosting test participation, and would  be given information to distribute to parents that explains why tests are administered and how the results are used.

Colorado plans to use science achievement, drop-out rates, and chronic absenteeism alongside test scores to rate its schools.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, did not sign off on the state's ESSA plan. The plan was written by former education commissioner, Stephen Pruitt. State board members appointed by Bevin recently ousted Pruitt, in part due to disagreements on charter schools and a state takeover of Jefferson County Public Schools, the state's largest district, which includes Louisville.

It's unclear whether Pruitt's successor, interim commissioner Wayne Lewis, will seek major revisions to the state's plan. But currently, Kentucky is planning to measure "opportunity and access" alongside test scores, including access to visual and performing arts and physical education. It will also look at chronic absenteeism and college- and career-readiness. And the state will continue with its nationally celebrated approach to turning around the lowest-performing schools, which includes an extensive audit of everything from how resources are being allocated to the principal's leadership capacity.  

Image: Getty Images

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here's some useful information:


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