June 4, 2004
Honorable Roger Sampson
Department of Education & Early Development
801 West Tenth Street, Suite 200
Juneau, AK 99801-1894
Dear Commissioner Sampson:
I am writing in response to Alaska's request to amend its state accountability plan under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Following our discussions with your staff, those changes that are aligned with NCLB are now included in an amended state accountability plan that Alaska submitted to the Department on May 21, 2004. A list of the changes is enclosed with this letter. I am pleased to approve Alaska's amended plan, which we will post on the Department's website.
This letter also documents one aspect of Alaska's amendments for which final action is still needed. Alaska wishes to apply a confidence interval to safe harbor determinations. Alaska may use this statistical test (limited to a 75% confidence interval) for making adequate yearly progress (AYP) determinations this school year. We request, however, that Alaska provide impact data from the 2003-2004 AYP data regarding the use of this statistical test for "safe harbor" when available. These data will provide valuable information regarding this particular aspect of the accountability system.
If, over time, Alaska makes changes to the accountability plan that has been approved, Alaska must submit information about those changes to the Department for review and approval, as required by section 1111(f)(2) of Title I. Approval of Alaska's accountability plan is not also an approval of Alaska's standards and assessment system. As Alaska makes changes in its standards and assessments to meet requirements under NCLB, Alaska must submit information about those changes to the Department for peer review through the standards and assessment process.
Please also be aware that approval of Alaska's accountability plan for Title I, including the amendments approved above, does not indicate that the plan complies with Federal civil rights requirements, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
I hope that you have found the accountability plan amendment process effective for implementing a state accountability system that best serves the needs of Alaska's students and schools and that will lead to improving the academic achievement of all students. As evidenced by the diversity among state accountability plans and state consolidated applications, States have great flexibility in the design of their systems and implementation of particular NCLB provisions. If, as you implement your accountability plan, you find additional elements of your plan that you believe should be refined or amended for next school year to best serve the needs of your students and schools, I encourage you to explore all the areas of flexibility available to your State. For example, the State may assess limited English proficient students who are participating in heritage language programs with locally or State developed native language assessments aligned to Alaska's academic content and achievement standards, or may expand the range of accommodations that may be offered to such students.
In addition to the flexibility available to States in the design and implementation of their accountability plans, I also encourage you and your districts to utilize the additional flexibility available for the administration and operation of NCLB programs. NCLB continued the flexibility available to States and districts under the 1994 reauthorization of the ESEA, including the ability to consolidate state and local administrative funds (sections 9201 and 9203), to operate schoolwide programs (section 1114), and to participate in the Education Flexibility Partnership Program ("Ed-Flex"). Additionally, NCLB created several new flexibility options for States and districts for the operation of federal programs. These new flexibility provisions include the State Flexibility Authority (sections 6141 through 6144), the Local Flexibility Demonstration program (sections 6151 through 6156), Transferability (sections 6121 through 6123), and the Rural Education Achievement program (sections 6201 through 6234). These flexibilities truly offer States and districts the ability to target federal resources to their unique and individual needs.
I am confident that Alaska will continue to advance its efforts to hold schools and school districts accountable for the achievement of all students. I wish you well in your school improvement efforts. If I can be of any additional assistance to Alaska in its efforts to implement other aspects of NCLB, please do not hesitate to call.
Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
cc: Governor Frank H. Murkowski
Amendments to Alaska's Accountability Plan
These statements are summaries of the amendments. For complete details, please refer to the Alaska Accountability plan on the Department's website: www.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/stateplans03/index.html
Rewards and Sanctions (Element 1.6)
Revision: Alaska has modified its system of rewards to include distinguished schools, and schools that have significantly closed the achievement gap, exceeded the AYP target without use of confidence intervals and/or have made the greatest gains in student achievement.
Assessment and accountability for LEP students (Element 5.4)
Revision: Alaska will apply the flexibility recently offered by the Department with respect to testing recently arrived LEP students in the English language proficiency assessment (required), reading/language arts (not required), and mathematics assessment (required). These test results will not be included in AYP determinations.
Medical Emergencies (Element 2.1)
Revision: Alaska will apply the flexibility recently offered by the Department with respect to exempting individual students from assessment administrations when extreme and/or unexpected medical emergencies arise, on a case-by-case basis.
Use of alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards (Element 5.3)
Revision: Alaska will implement the flexibility provided by the December 2003 regulation related to alternate assessments based on alternate achievement scores.
Adjust the Minimum "n" for Two Subgroups (Element 5.5)
Revision: Alaska will increase the minimum "n" size for the student with disabilities and English language learner subgroups to 40.
Average Participation Rate (Elements 2.1 and 10.2)
Revision: Alaska indicates it will implement the flexibility provided under the Secretary's transition authority to average participation rates for up to three years to meet the 95% student participation rate in assessments.
Safe Harbor (Element 3.2)
Revision: Alaska would like to apply a one-tailed (A=.25) confidence interval for safe harbor decisions.