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Feds approve Georgia education plan over Gov. Nathan Deal’s objections
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Hall County school buses leave White Sulphur Elementary with a load of kindergarten students. - photo by Scott Rogers

Georgia’s new education plan has been approved by the federal Department of Education, but local educators and even Gov. Nathan Deal still object to some of its contents.

The state submitted its plan in the fall. It is mandated as part of complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, the federal substitute for the No Child Left Behind Act.

ESSA requires testing standards while ostensibly leaving more decisions about school accountability to states and local districts.

Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods and his staff drafted the state’s plan, but while not required, Deal refused to endorse it.

“The governor maintains there are still deficiencies with the state plan, particularly around performance measures and testing,” Jen Talaber Ryan, a spokeswoman for Deal’s office, told The Times in an email on Monday. “In order to equip students in the classroom and for the world beyond, we must continue to set high standards for our children. The governor is hopeful the state school superintendent will insist upon this as well, rather than using flexibility to skirt these accountability measures.”

Georgia, along with Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Montana and New Hampshire, had its plan OK’d last Friday, bringing the total to 35 states whose ESSA plans have been approved.

“I am pleased to approve these plans which comply with the requirements of the law,” U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a press release. “I encourage states to use their plans as a starting point, rather than a finish line, to improve outcomes for all students.”

Georgia’s plan “recognizes schools making significant progress with traditionally underserved subgroups through its Closing Gaps indicator,” according to DeVos’ office.

It also “focuses on the whole child through its College & Career Ready Performance Index, which measures student access to fine arts education, world language instruction, physical education, (Advanced Placement) enrollment and career pathways.”

“Thousands of Georgians — parents, students, educators, policymakers, members of the business community — gave us their feedback as we worked to create our state’s ESSA plan,” Woods said in a statement. “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. This plan is a direct response to that feedback, and reflects our continued focus on expanding opportunities for Georgia’s students.”

Deal continues to stress that he wants broader emphasis on student test results in school ratings.

Will Campbell, principal of the Fair Street International Academy in Gainesville, previously told The Times that apples-and-oranges comparisons had unfairly burdened schools with large student populations coming from low-income households.

Campbell said it’s important to measure student achievement year-over-year rather than by arbitrary comparison with schools in similar socio-economic neighborhoods around the state.

Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County Schools, earlier said he remains skeptical of federal and state plans to manage and improve education at the local level and that overemphasis on school rankings had “become little more than reflections of existing socio-economic realities, immigration levels and transiency.”

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