Feds approve Georgia’s “ESSA” plan for schools

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Feds approve Georgia’s “ESSA” plan for schools

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AJC/ JASON GETZ

Gov. Nathan Deal wouldn’t sign it, but U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has approved Georgia’s plan to comply with the new federal education law.

The U.S. Department of Education announced the approval of Georgia’s plan and the plans of five other states -- Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Montana and New Hampshire-- in a bulletin released at 7:45 p.m.

Georgia’s report card for schools, the College and Career Ready Performance Index, is still driven by scores on state standardized tests, but the new plan diminishes the impact of those test results by giving schools credit for providing arts, language, PE and advanced coursework.

Though DeVos appreciated the design, Deal rejected it, saying it “falls short in setting high expectations” and tells school districts how to run their schools.

The approval means Georgia’s 111-page plan complies with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, the successor to the No Child Left Behind Act and that the state can implement it.

The authorization comes after federal officials found one component of Georgia’s plan to be in clear violation of the law -- the part that deals with marking down a school’s test scores in situations where less than 95 percent of students are tested.

Georgia didn’t change the way that calculation works but did add “clarifying” language about that part of the plan, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Education said. It also was amended so that the calculation would only apply in situations where at least 15 students were tested. The plan originally set a threshold of 40.

All this is important because a lenient calculation for penalizing schools’ overall scores for test absenteeism could lead administrators to encourage their worst students to stay home on testing days.

DeVos also highlighted another “unique element” of Georgia’s plan: its method for recognizing schools that are making  “significant” progress with “traditionally underserved subgroups.” The state proposed a complicated “closing the gaps” indicator.

Georgia schools Superintendent Richard Woods said in a statement that his education department heard from thousands of residents as it wrote the plan:

“We listened and heard that Georgians want a K-12 education system that supports the whole child; a system that produces students who are not just college- and career-ready, but ready for life.”

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