SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Department of Education has granted final approval of Utah's Every Student Succeeds Act state plan.
A letter from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos dated Thursday confirmed approval of the plan, which is essentially an application for some $131 million in federal funding for programs that support students experiencing poverty, homelessness and other challenges.
"I congratulate you on this significant accomplishment," DeVos wrote.
DeVos, in a press release from the Education Department, announced the approval of the Utah and California state plans, which were among the last to be given the green light.
"Utah's plan explicitly states a long-term goal of reducing gaps by one-third by 2022 in student mathematics and learning arts achievement in grades 3-8. The state will annually publish data on progress in this area," the release states.
Another highlight of the Utah plan lifted up by DeVos was the State School Board's collaboration with the Utah System of Higher Education and the Utah Partnership for Transforming Education Preparation to improve teacher preparation, performance measures and licensing programs, according to the release.
Sydnee Dickson, Utah's state superintendent of public instruction, said in the statement that "Utah's plan provides strategies to engage school communities in continuous improvement on behalf of each student."
An earlier "status letter" from DeVos to Utah public education officials warned that if Utah did not have an approved plan prior to July 1, the Department of Education could take "actions" such as withholding funds appropriated to administer federal programs that support vulnerable student groups.
Even though final approval of the Utah plan was granted nearly two weeks after the July 1 deadline, there were no financial implications, said Emilie Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Utah State Board of Education.
The plan was submitted last fall and the board has worked with the U.S. Department of Education for months to clarify and amend the plan after feedback from federal regulators.
“Utah’s plan provides strategies to engage school communities in continuous improvement on behalf of each student. We are committed to increasing equity and access to educational excellence in our schools and supporting our educators as they work to close achievement gaps,” Dickson said in a prepared statement.
Plan approval was delayed over a conflict calculating scores of students who opt out of statewide tests. Utah sought a one-year reprieve from the assessment provision to reconcile the differences between state and federal requirements but DeVos denied the request.
However, the parties later agreed to changes to the plan that will allow Utah to maintain one accountability system for the 2018-19 school year.
Utah law permits parents, guardians or students over the age of 18 to request to be excused from tests administered statewide. In recent years, growing numbers of students have opted out of testing.
In 2017, 5.9 percent of eligible students opted out of statewide testing, up from 3.1 percent in 2015. The opt-out rate among charter schools was 13 percent in 2017, and averages about 36 percent among virtual schools, according to state data.
Federal law requires a 95 percent participation rate.3 comments on this story
Utah’s plan outlines how the state has and will continue to direct federal funds to serve specific student populations to close achievement gaps and increase equity and access to quality instruction.
The plan includes goals of increasing high school graduation rates and significantly reducing gaps in achievement by 2022, and directing additional resources and support to low-performing schools based on school performance and a comprehensive needs-based assessment among other benchmarks and goals.