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Ohio Department of Education submits federal education plan

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Richard Dixon listens to his teacher Ann Koch-West as he takes notes Wednesday, January of 2016.

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The Ohio Department of Education sent its plan to meet federal education requirements off to the U.S. Department of Education on Friday after delaying the submission by months to consider feedback from educators and community members.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act in 2015 and gives states and local districts more flexibility, requires states to show how they would use federal funds to improve student achievement and hold districts accountable.

Critics of a draft released in February contended the plan ignored public feedback when it didn’t call for less student testing, and there weren’t substantial changes in the final version submitted last week. But some educators say the plan brings improvements, particularly in measuring student proficiency.

Julie Sanford, director of teaching and learning at Sylvania Schools, said she is pleased to see the state propose more realistic long-term progress goals for students. The plan set benchmarks for English language arts and math performance in grades 3-8 and for four-year graduation rates at the high school level. The benchmarks improve over a 10-year period and vary by subgroups such as economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and minorities.

“We’ve been watching this particular piece the most because it makes a huge difference for us,” she said. “If these benchmarks were in place, we would meet all of them.”

Jim Lloyd, superintendent of Olmsted Falls City Schools in Cuyahoga County, was a vocal critic of the draft in February and was the lead author on a “collective response” signed by officials from more than a dozen other northeast Ohio districts. He advocates for less testing but said he understands the education department’s hands are tied because testing requirements must be changed by law.

Federal law requires 17 exams throughout elementary and high school, while Ohio mandates 22.

“It’s really the job of the Ohio General Assembly in order to be able to get it done, and they don’t really seem willing to do that at this point,” Mr. Lloyd said.

He would also like to see Ohio do away with the letter grades on its state report cards, something he said “oversimplifies what we do” and doesn’t effectively measure the quality of a child’s education.

Chris Woolard, senior executive director at the state department of education, said the public did express concerns while the ESSA plan was being drafted about the amount of testing in Ohio schools, but that must be changed through state law.

He touted the plan’s strategies for supporting struggling districts, ensuring all students have effective teachers, and focusing on vulnerable student populations. For example, the plan proposed adding a chronic absenteeism measure to the annual state report card.

“There’s a lot more emphasis on the needs of disadvantaged students: homeless students, foster students, and migrant students,” Mr. Woolard said. “It’s also more focused on meeting the needs of the whole child, on top of just academic concerns.”

State officials will begin working with area districts to implement the ESSA plan once it’s approved at the federal level.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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