After months of back and forth, the U.S. Department of Education approved Mississippi’s expansive state education plan.

Federal officials approved the Mississippi Succeeds plan this week, along with those proposed by Idaho and Rhode Island.

“The state plans met ESSA’s (Every Student Succeeds Act) requirements, and I am pleased to approve them,” U. S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a release. “I look forward to seeing how these states dive deeper into the flexibility afforded by ESSA to innovate on behalf of their students.”

Every state is required to develop a new plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act, a federal law that replaces the No Child Left Behind Act passed by Congress in 2001. Mississippi’s plan was unveiled to the State Department of Education in June 2017, and state officials since then have worked with the federal government to get the plan ready for approval.

Mississippi Succeeds outlines how the state will improve education outcomes in testing, graduation rates, access to quality early learning opportunities and other areas.

The plan calls for eliminating the achievement gap between African American students and their peers. ESSA also requires states to reduce the gap in graduation rates of special education students and other students.

Mississippi’s plan intends to raise the graduation rate for students with disabilities from 34.7 percent (during the 2015-16 school year) to 70 percent by 2025. The plan aims to increase the graduation rate for all students from 82.3 percent in 2015-16 to 90 percent by 2025, according to the plan.

The federal government now requires states to identify and provide support to the lowest-performing five percent of all schools receiving Title I funds, or high-poverty schools, and Mississippi Succeeds will specifically target low-performing, high-poverty schools.

In a release, Mississippi State Superintendent Carey Wright said the state’s long term goals are aligned to a “bold strategic plan to advance student achievement.”

“We have set high expectations for all students, and we have aggressive annual performance targets divided by subgroup that we will be monitoring annually,” Wright said. “We take seriously our commitment to improving student outcomes for all students, which is why we are implementing an array of initiatives from enhancing educator preparation programs and teacher leadership to school turnaround efforts and an Achievement School District.”

Mississippi submitted its plan for review in September, and in December the U.S. Department of Education sent Wright a letter asking for more clarity in several aspects of the plan.

Federal officials in January raised issues with the fact that the Mississippi Succeeds plan did not include a numerical value for test scores and growth data for the state’s English Language Learners in the 2017-2018 accountability ratings for schools. State officials warned that may force the state to change its A through F grading scale.

The original plan intended to phase these students in to accountability ratings within three years, but Mississippi officials later indicated in the approved version of the plan that English language learners will be included in 2017-18 ratings, which are usually released in October. English language learners make up about three to five percent of students in the state, but the percentage in each district varies widely.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.