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The U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday gave final approval to a plan to reduce the number of Nebraska students who are not proficient in core subject areas by 50 percent in the next decade.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos applauded Nebraska’s plan submitted under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires states to implement accountability systems that identify schools needing support and outline plans for intervention.

ESSA, which replaced No Child Left Behind when it was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015, gives states more flexibility to create their own accountability systems for identifying and improving low-performing schools.

Nebraska’s plan, submitted last September, “establishes ambitious, but attainable long-term goals in alignment with its strategic vision and direction,” the U.S. Department of Education said in a release.

It incorporates indicators such as academic achievement and progress, graduation rates, progress for English language learners and chronic absenteeism to measure school quality, as well as student success.

Schools deemed “In Need of Comprehensive Support and Improvement” will qualify for federally funded improvement activities under the ESSA plan, which will include funds for professional development, teacher evaluations and strategies to hire, train and retain teachers.

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Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said the state focused on how to better deploy federal resources to support struggling schools, historically underserved students and to recruit effective teachers in developing its ESSA plan.

“We are confident we can use the plan to work toward equity for all students and close the achievement gaps we have seen for years in Nebraska,” Blomstedt said in a statement.

Nebraska Department of Education officials developed the plan following a statewide listening tour and an online feedback survey that received more than 1,700 responses, as well as dialogues with Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sen. Deb Fischer.

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Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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