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Minnesota’s school oversight plan approved by federal education officials

Minnesota’s school oversight plan approved by federal education officials
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota has a new system for holding schools accountable to ensure every child gets an equitable education.

The U.S. Department of Education announced late Wednesday it had approved Minnesota’s proposal for a new school oversight plan. The plans are required under the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which was passed in 2015 and regulates federal funding and oversight of public schools.

“States continue to embrace the flexibility and power given to them under ESSA,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. “I look forward to seeing how the states turn ideas into action to improve outcomes for all students.”

Minnesota’s plan was developed after roughly a year’s worth of meetings with teachers, parents and education advocates. Schools will be judged on achievement tests, students’ academic growth, graduation rates, progress with students learning English and an evolving measure of overall school quality.

Minnesota submitted its initial plans in September and just last week state education leaders provided federal officials with a half dozen updates after being asked for clarifications. The new oversight system is expected to be implemented later this year.

Brenda Cassellius, state education commissioner, characterized federal feedback about Minnesota’s oversight plans as mostly positive. She said Wednesday that the new system will help the state close its persistent achievement gap between low-income and minority students and their classmates.

“Every student in every school — from pre-K to graduation — deserves an excellent education, and this plan puts equity front and center, giving us a clear blueprint for schools across Minnesota to meet that charge,” Cassellius said in a statement announcing the plan’s approval.

Minnesota’s new accountability system also has been met with criticism — mostly over the way the state identifies the schools that need intervention. Republican leaders on the Minnesota House education committees went so far as to request federal regulators reject the state’s proposed plans.

Under the approved system, education officials would use a funnel system, or decision tree, to decide which schools need extra help from state centers of support.

Some advocates have said that decision system is not precise and could lead to unintended consequences like school leaders focusing on improving the academic performance of small groups of students in order to be free of state intervention.

Critics have also called for schools to be given overall ratings and that the state create a clear and easy to understand method of reporting results to parents. A system for reporting oversight results is expected to be completed in the coming months.

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