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Seventeen States Get More Time on Their ESSA Plans

By Daarel Burnette and Alyson Klein

Seventeen states have received more time from the U.S. Department of Education to address federal concerns with their applications for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, according to a department spokeswoman.

On that list: Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. 

For those keeping score at home, that's every state that hasn't yet gotten a thumbs-up from the department on its plan. The feds have given every single state feedback on its ESSA approach. Some states have been approved even if they didn't take all of the department's suggestions to heart.

State departments and the boards that oversee them have been grappling with how best to comply with the federal law. 

In some instances, states' laws conflict with the federal law. That would require a state's legislature to change its existing law, or for the state to decide to ask for a waiver, a tedious and politically thorny process. 

Utah, for example, has a law on the books that allows any parent to opt a child out of the state's standardized test. Since that law was passed, the state's testing participation rate has plummeted far below the federal law's 95 percent participation mandate. The state board decided earlier this month to apply for a waiver from the requirement.

And Florida's legislature in 2014 sealed into its rulebooks an accountability system that doesn't factor in some student subgroups' test scores, English Language Proficiency exam scores, or native language assessments as ESSA now requires. The state originally planned to ask for a waiver but later changed its mind.  A large contingency of civil rights activists in that state are pushing the governor and legislature to comply with the federal requirements. 

In other instances, state departments have to corral dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of ESSA committee members back together in order to decide how best to respond to the feds' feedback. Getting teachers, administrators, politicians and business leaders on the same page around issues such as school accountability is a fraught and cumbersome process, state leaders have said.

For example, a state board meeting in Mississippi last month unraveled into a debate between politicians and school leaders over how the state department should nudge districts to improve the outcomes of English-language learners after the federal Education Department took issue with how the state factors English-language proficiency scores into its accountability system. The state board hasn't yet decided how to respond.

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