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Betsy DeVos finally approves North Carolina's plan for educating students

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Tuesday that she has approved North Carolina's plan for educating students, which will guarantee the continued flow of federal education dollars into the state.

North Carolina had been among six states who had not yet received U.S. Department of Education approval for how it would educate students under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. In her announcement, DeVos praised North Carolina for its use of the controversial A through F school grading system, in which schools get letter grades based on on how their students perform on state exams.

Critics of the A-F grading system say it stigmatizes high-poverty schools, which are more likely to get low marks compared to affluent schools.

DeVos also announced Tuesday that she had approved Nebraska's plan.

“I am pleased to approve these plans which comply with the requirements of the law,” DeVos said in a written statement. “I encourage education leaders in Nebraska and North Carolina to continue to embrace the flexibility afforded them in ESSA and to use their plans as a starting point, rather than a finish line, to improve outcomes for all students.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act is the successor to the No Child Left Behind program. The new law still requires states to administer standardized tests, but it gives them more flexibility to report other measures for holding schools accountable.

Federal reviewers had questions about how the state is dealing with inexperienced and ineffective teachers working at high-poverty schools.

In the state's third revised plan sent May 23, the state Department of Public Instruction acknowledged that there's a problem with how teachers are distributed across the state. But DPI said there's only so much the state can do about the problem because hiring decisions are up to local school districts.

The state's answers satisfied federal officials. In addition to praising the use of A-F school letter grades, DeVos also singled out as "unique" how North Carolina's plan:

Provides a concise statement of the innovation the state expects for students, including using adaptive environments, personalized learning and empowering educators;

Establishes 10-year goals for student performance using end-of-grade and end-of-course exams, and goals for closing achievement gaps.

Some state Board of Education members and advisers had complained the plan relied too much on standardized testing. But State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson has consistently stood by the state's plan.

“Our ESSA plan is consistent with our efforts to transform our education system to allow every student to follow the path to success that they decide best fits them,” Johnson said in a written statement. “We are changing our industrial-age practices of providing the same inputs and opportunities to all and moving to digital-age practices in which all students and educators have access to individualized learning experiences.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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