Feds call for changes to Idaho’s ESSA plan

The U.S. Department of Education has asked Idaho to revise its education plan so it will comply with a federal law.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and State Board of Education President Linda Clark participated in a conference call on Dec. 28 with U.S. Department of Education’s Office of State Support, to discuss Idaho’s plan to comply with the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Neither U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos nor Gov. Butch Otter participated in the call.

U.S. Department of Education officials have not approved Idaho’s ESSA compliance plan, which Ybarra and Clark submitted in September.

Instead, the feds are “requesting clarifying or additional information to ensure the state’s plan has met all statutory and regulatory requirements…,” Jason Botel, the department’s principal deputy assistant secretary, wrote in a Dec. 28 letter the state released Tuesday.

In that letter, Botel asked Ybarra and Clark to submit a revised plan by Jan. 12.

Ybarra is on vacation until next week, her spokeswoman said, and Idaho policymakers and politicos are gearing up for Jan. 8 — the start of the annual legislative session and Otter’s State of the State address.

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SDE director of assessment and accountability Karlynn Laraway said the state will ask the feds for an extension through the end of January.

“We need a little bit more time to bring those things together and provide data and resources to analyze to make a final recommendation,” Laraway said.

Botel appeared open to an extension and asked Clark and Ybarra to write in with a new submission date.

The feds flagged a handful of components of the plan that require additional information or do not comply with the law.

Those include:

  • The sample reporting size, or “n-size” that will be used for accountability purposes to identify the lowest performing schools for support and intervention. Idaho used an “n-size” of 20 students for all students and an “n-size” of 10 students for student subgroups in its plan, violating ESSA requirements. “N-size” was a topic of discussion among education groups last summer, as well.
  • Student satisfaction surveys that will be used as a measure of school quality and or student success. Idaho leaders have yet to identify which survey will be used and the feds say it is not clear whether the state meets this requirement, so the feds are requesting additional details.
  • Using growth and proficiency as an academic indicator for K-8 schools. Idaho’s plan was designed to give K-8 school leaders flexibility to pick whether to use proficiency or growth as a indicator. But the feds said Idaho’s description of how it will measure growth is inconsistent.

The feds did not flag Idaho for omitting a bottom-line, summative rating that some states included. Ybarra has previously said Idahoans rejected the summative rating — such as a five-star rating system policymakers repealed. Instead, Idaho has proposed to use  multiple measures of student and school data.

State Board of Education Executive Director Matt Freeman, who participated in the Dec. 28 conference call, said the board will convene a special meeting in January to review and approve any changes to the ESSA plan before resubmitting to the feds.

Freeman also confirmed the state will seek an extension, likely until the end of January.

“None of those (changes) are showstoppers,” Freeman said. “They are things we will work on and run by our stakeholder groups. By and large, I thought it was a positive conversation.”

Idaho’s ESSA plan is important because it includes a new accountability plan for public schools and long-term goals for education. The plan also represents Idaho’s application for about $83 million in federal funding annually, and directs how the state will implement nine federal programs.

Although the feds have yet to approve Idaho’s plan, the plan will still be used to identify the lowest performing public schools — based on data from the current school year.

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