State Board of Education approves ESSA plan

POCATELLO — It took less than one minute Thursday for the State Board of Education to approve Idaho’s wide-ranging plan to comply with federal education law.

Without any debate or discussion, the State Board voted unanimously to approve the Every Student Succeeds Act compliance plan, a document that spans 84 pages and was nearly a year and a half in the making.

“You have no idea how happy I am,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said as she made the motion for approval.

Seconds later, the vote was official.

Her staff let out an audible cheer and donned wide smiles.

“There is a lot of work that went into this,” Ybarra told Idaho EdNews after the vote. “It’s all the goals we set out. We had everybody at the table, and we had a lot feedback. I feel like, moving forward, it’s an optimal plan done the Idaho way.”

The ESSA compliance plan is important because it represents Idaho’s application to receive and spend about $83 million in annual federal funding. The plan also includes a new school accountability system and plans for identifying to the feds Idaho’s lowest performing public schools. Finally, the plan outlines how state leaders and educators will implement nine federal programs, many of which affect students with disabilities or direct professional development training for teachers.

Even with Thursday’s vote of approval, additional hurdles remain. Ybarra will now send the plan to Gov. Butch Otter, and allow him to review it for 30 days.

Then, Ybarra and State Board President Linda Clark must sign the plan and submit it to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

The feds will take up to 120 days to review the plan, and may approve it, request changes, or reject it.

Thus far, DeVos and the feds have approved four state plans — Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey and New Mexico, Education Week reported.

State Board members approved the ESSA plan even though two members believe the federal government might reject Idaho’s accountability plan or request changes. During a Wednesday briefing, Clark and Board member Debbie Critchfield said the feds would prefer state accountability plans include a single, summative rating. Idaho’s plan deliberately does not include a single rating. Instead, policymakers proposed an online “data dashboard” and electronic report card that will present multiple measures of academic progress and school quality to the public.

Clark and Critchfield said Idahoans support the dashboard, and Board members believe the dashboard offers greater transparency.

Even though the feds may take issue with Idaho’s approach, Ybarra vowed to repel any federal pushback, as long as the state plan does not break federal law.

“I was told specifically by the secretary of education that if Idaho’s plan looks like Colorado’s plan and looks like Washington’s plan, then we weren’t very innovative and creative and we didn’t get our stakeholders to the table,” Ybarra said. “If we’re going to do a one-size-fits-all approach and require everybody to have a rating system that, to me, is a contradictory message being sent to the states.”

More than 70 people attended the meeting on Idaho State University’s campus — most were higher education officials or state staffers.

Science standards

In other news Thursday, the State Board also approved a new slate of academic science standards, which the State Board will forward to the 2018 Legislature for consideration. During the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers approved a temporary slate of science standards after first removing five references to climate change and human impact on the environment. A committee of some of the state’s most-awarded teachers and industry representatives developed the new science standards and massaged the language in an attempt to appease state legislators who argued last year’s proposed standards did not do enough “to address both sides” of the climate change debate.

Scott Cook, the SDE’s director of academics, said Ybarra’s office received more than 1,000 comments as the committee developed the standards. He said the vast majority of comments supported approving the standards that left intact references to climate change. Cook said the bulk of the changes amount to reinserting references to climate change and then adding sections explaining how humans may mitigate rising temperatures.

“We do have a complete set of very rigorous and excellent science standards, and we are ready to get started,” Cook told Board members.

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