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Betsy DeVos Team Critiques ESSA Plans for Georgia, Utah, and Puerto Rico

By Alyson Klein — December 15, 2017 3 min read
The exterior of the Department of Education Building in Washington, DC on Thursday, December 14, 2017.
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Georgia and Utah, as well as hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, have some work to do on their plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, according letters published this week by the U.S. Department of Education. Each turned in its ESSA plan back in September. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team are just beginning to respond to state plans. (Maryland is the only other state that submitted this fall to receive feedback.)

Here’s a quick look at some of the issues the department sited in each plan. Click on the state name to read the full letter from the feds.


Georgia has proposed looking at whether schools are able to close achievement gaps as part of its academic achievement indicator. The department says that gap-closing can’t be used there, although it can figure in elsewhere in the state’s accountability system.

The Peach State has listed nine indicators of school quality or student success, but it hasn’t sufficiently explained how they would be measured, or how they will differentiate among schools, the department says.

Georgia needs to do a better job of explaining how much weight it is giving to different accountability indicators. ESSA says academic factors, like test scores, need to count for more than school quality indicators, like school climate. It’s not clear Georgia met that requirement, the feds say.

The state needs to provide more information to show that its plans for identifying low-performing schools and schools where certain groups of students are struggling meet ESSA’s requirements. And it needs to explain how it will ensure poor students get their fair share of effective teachers, the department says.

The department isn’t sure Georgia is following ESSA’s rules for making sure at least 95 percent of students participate in standardized testing.


The department says Utah needs to spell out its long-term goals for math and reading, and for English-language learners to attain proficiency.

The feds want Utah to make it clear whether it is using the ACT or some other assessment as its test for high school students.

Utah is allowing its local districts to come up with their own factors to measure school quality or student success. If those factors are used in state accountability determinations, the department is worried not every school will be held accountable for the same indicators.

It is unclear whether graduation rates, English-language proficiency, and test scores make up at least half of a school’s overall rating in Utah’s system, as required by ESSA, the department says.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico needs to better explain how it is identifying so-called “targeted support” schools that might be doing well overall, but where particular groups of students are struggling, the department says.

Puerto Rico needs to better spell out how it will make sure poor kids get their fair share of effective teachers, according to the feds.

Puerto Rico is using teacher attendance as its indicator of school quality and student success but needs to better explain how that will be measured, the department says.

The department isn’t sure Puerto Rico is following ESSA’s rules for making sure at least 95 percent of students participate in standardized testing.

Do states have to revise their plans based on the federal feedback? That’s unclear. States that submitted their plans this spring got the federal seal of approval even if they didn’t change things the department asked them to change. For instance, Tennessee still has so-called “super subgroups,” which combine different groups of students for accountability purposes, even though the feds have said that’s a no-no. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., an ESSA architect and the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, has expressed big concerns about this.

What’s more, the department initially released extensive feedback letters for every state. Then it decided to change the review process midway, in favor of calling states and expressing concerns. That happened after big pushback from states and Republicans in Congress that DeVos’ team was asking for more from states than the law required.

Where do state ESSA plans stand? Sixteen states and the District of Columbia submitted their ESSA plans this fall. So far, all but one of those states has been approved. (The exception is Colorado, which asked for more time to improve its plan.) Another 34 states submitted their plans earlier this fall. So far, Maryland is the only other state to receive feedback.

Keep track of state ESSA plans here.

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