DeVos approves Idaho’s ESSA plan

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos granted full approval Thursday to Idaho’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Ybarra got the news via a personal phone call from DeVos earlier in the day, State Department of Education spokeswoman Kris Rodine said.

DeVos followed up with a letter to Ybarra.

“I congratulate you on this significant accomplishment,” DeVos wrote.

The ESSA plan’s approval is big news because the document includes Idaho’s new school accountability system and outlines the state’s long-term education goals.

The plan also represents Idaho’s application for about $87 million in annual federal funding and directs how the state will implement nine federal programs.

“I’m excited to move from planning this new approach to implementing it,” Ybarra said in a written statement. “I’m grateful to the stakeholders across the state who helped craft a new accountability system geared to the needs of Idaho students.

“With this consolidated plan, we will celebrate success, measure growth and uplift our lowest-performing schools.”

Former President Obama signed ESSA into law in December 2015. The law replaced No Child Left Behind, and is notable for shifting oversight and control of schools away from the feds and toward states and local school districts.

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra

Ybarra and State Board of Education President Linda Clark submitted Idaho’s ESSA plan to the feds in September. On Dec. 28, the feds asked for revisions to ensure Idaho’s plan complied with the law. Ybarra and the State Board resubmitted the plan in February.

Beginning this summer, Idaho’s ESSA plan will be used to identify the 5 percent lowest-performing schools in the state, and then direct resources to these schools as they develop turnaround plans.

State officials will also use the plan to identify the state’s highest-performing schools, after this spring’s standardized tests.

Idaho’s ESSA plan sets several ambitious five-year goals:

  • Improving the high school graduation rate to 95 percent, up from 79.7 percent in 2017.
  • Decreasing the number of students who are not proficient at English language arts and math by one third.
  • Decreasing the number of students who are not making progress toward English language proficiency by one third.

Under the ESSA plan, Idaho will not judge its schools based on a single, high-stakes test or assign overall letter grades or star rankings to schools.

Instead, the state will rely on multiple sets of data — including students’ growth toward proficiency; college- and career-readiness benchmarks, such as the number of high school students earning college credits or industry certifications; and student engagement surveys completed by  third- through eighth-graders. Next year, surveys of high school students, parents and educators will be added to the mix.

“(DeVos) said ‘great plan,’ and she is excited to learn more about our mastery-based education program,” Ybarra said in a statement describing her Thursday conversation with DeVos.

In her letter, DeVos said she approved Idaho’s ESSA plan after consulting with U.S. Department of Education staffers who reviewed the plan.

The feds also conducted a peer review of sections of Idaho’s plan.

Idaho’s plan remains in effect for as long as the state participates in the programs covered by ESSA.

“Thank you for the important work that you and your staff are doing to support the transition to the ESSA and, most importantly, to lead Idaho’s students to achieve at high levels,” DeVos wrote to Ybarra.



Clark Corbin

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