Louisiana Superintendent John White told a U.S. Senate committee Tuesday that the state’s plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act is based on the idea of “academic mastery.”

Under ESSA each state must submit a plan to the Department of Education to receive $15.5 billion in Title I funding. The plan must show set goals for students, as well as how the state intends to hold schools accountable for their performances.

Forty-eight states have submitted plans; 14 have been approved, and 32 are under review. The department has 120 days to review and approve state plans once they are submitted.

Louisiana, represented at the Washington, D.C., hearing by White, is one of the 14 states with approved plans.

“Our plan’s foundation is the idea of academic mastery,” White told members of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. 

White said the state’s school rating system awards an A to schools with an average performance equivalent to a National Assessment of Educational Progress basic score. He said redefining “quality” and making A an equivalent to NAEP efficiency is the most fundamental shift in Louisiana’s plans to implement ESSA’s flexibility and standards.

“An A in Louisiana, should be an A in any state in this country,” White said.

Gaps between historically disadvantaged student groups and their peers have revealed themselves to be much larger than previously believed and in an effort to fix the problem, White said, the state plans to provide teachers with a mastery target. This target will indicate the progress each student needs to make to achieve an A level of performance.

Schools will also receive a set of free online formative and diagnostic assessments that White said he hopes will “get rid of wasteful, duplicative and costly assessments that are so pervasive in our schools today.”

Louisiana’s plan includes the development of an “interest and opportunity” indicator, intended to indicate the extent to which schools are providing and evaluating courses that are rarely offered to Louisiana students. The plan will make use of the Title I Direct Student Services Provision to expand course offerings.

“We address the reality that a vast majority of students attend schools that are consistently struggling by any definition in any state’s plan.” White said. “Using ESSA’s evidence requirement as a foundation, we have established essential academic conditions that school systems applying for Title I funding must meet.” 

White said the plan also includes using statewide Title II funds to create an upward pathway for teachers by not only evaluating accountability in institutions but also providing incentives to place proven educators into hard-to-staff schools.

White said a research-backed plan that embodies principles from the world’s highest-achieving education systems and focuses on students who need more attention will yield improvements. He added that the only question now is how willing leaders, at every level, are to make it happen.

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