U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Oct. 13, 2017.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Oct. 13, 2017. Credit: AP / Ted S. Warren

A 200-page New York State education plan that includes steps to discourage student test boycotts and encourage participation in college-level courses in high school has won approval from the U.S. Education Department.

The plan, drafted under the leadership of state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, is aimed at carrying out provisions of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, adopted in 2015.

The law gives states more flexibility in setting and enforcing standards for schools as compared with the former No Child Left Behind law, which ESSA replaced.

New York is among 11 states with plans approved this week by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The latest round of approvals brings to 27 the total number of states given Washington’s OK.

Approval means such state will continue receiving federal education aid, which in New York State’s case totals about $1.6 billion annually.

DeVos cited New York’s educational blueprint for its emphasis on crediting districts for the number of high school students taking advanced, college-level courses of the sort sponsored by the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs.

DeVos also observed, in a series of news releases that accompanied this week’s approvals, that plans submitted by New York and other states “should not be seen as a ceiling, but as a foundation.”

The new federal law, like its predecessor, requires at least 95 percent of students to participate in annual state English and math tests. The statute also requires states to spell out what action they would take in cases where schools did not meet that level of testing.

Lack of participation is a major issue in New York State — and particularly on Long Island, where hundreds of thousands of students in grades three through eight have boycotted state exams in English Language Arts and math in recent years.

The state’s newly approved plan takes a restrained approach to boycotts, providing that districts draw up improvement directions for schools that fall below the 95 percent participation rate.

If schools fail to make such improvements, regional BOCES districts are authorized to step in as consulting agencies to provide support.

The state Board of Regents approved the comprehensive plan in September, following discussion at more than 120 regional conferences across the state.

Elia, in a prepared statement, said the plan “reflects more than a year of collaboration with a comprehensive group of stakeholders.”

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