November 18, 2008
The Honorable June St. Clair Atkinson
Superintendent of Public Instruction
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
301 North Wilmington Street
Raleigh, North Carolina 27601-2825
Dear Superintendent Atkinson:
I am writing in response to North Carolina's request to amend its state accountability plan under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Following discussions between the Department and your staff, you made certain changes to your state accountability plan, which are now included in the amended state accountability plan that North Carolina submitted to the Department on October 3, 2008. I am pleased to fully approve North Carolina's amended plan, which we will post on the Department's website. A summary of the amendments submitted for the 2007-08 school year is enclosed with this letter. As you know, any further requests to amend the North Carolina accountability plan must be submitted to the Department for review and approval as required by section 1111(f)(2) of Title I of the ESEA.
Please also be aware that approval of North Carolina's accountability plan for Title I, including the amendments approved herein, 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 am confident that North Carolina will continue to hold schools and school districts accountable for the achievement of all students. I wish you well in your school improvement efforts. If you need any additional assistance in implementing the standards, assessment and accountability provisions of NCLB, please do not hesitate to contact Lauren Prehoda (Lauren.Prehoda@ed.gov) or Sue Rigney (Sue.Rigney@ed.gov) of my staff.
Kerri L. Briggs, Ph.D.
cc: Governor Michael Easley
Amendments to North Carolina's Accountability Plan
The following is a summary of the state's amendment requests. Please refer to the Department's website (www.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/stateplans03/index.html) for North Carolina's complete accountability plan.
The following amendments are aligned with the statute and regulations.
Definition of a new school (Element 2.1)
Revision: North Carolina will use the following criteria for determining if a school is a "new school" and determining the adequate yearly progress (AYP) status for such schools:
- If two or more schools merge, the new school's AYP status will come from the school with the higher average daily membership; and
- If a school divides, the resulting schools will each take the status of the original school.
Small school review (Element 2.1)
Revision: For schools with fewer than two tested students, North Carolina will permit the LEA to provide a justification for the AYP designation, rather than North Carolina's current process of a site visit by a team of educators.
Including students with disabilities in AYP determinations (Element 5.3)
Revision: North Carolina will include in AYP determinations for the 2007-08 school year the scores of students with disabilities who are proficient or above (up to a 2.0 percent cap at the district and state levels) on the alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards (AA-MAAS).
Please note that approval of this amendment by the Department does not constitute approval of North Carolina's AA-MAAS or its modified academic achievement standards. In approving this amendment, the Department expresses no opinion on the sufficiency of either the AA-MAAS or North Carolina's modified academic achievement standards.
Science tests in grades 5, 8, and biology for high school students (Element 6.1)
Revision: North Carolina clarifies that it will administer science assessments in grades 5 and 8 and an end-of-course assessment in biology for high school students. Please note that approval of this amendment by the Department does not constitute approval of these assessments.
Starting points, annual measurable objectives, and intermediate goals (Elements 3.1, 3.2, and 3.2b)
Revision: North Carolina administered new high school assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics in 2006-07. As a result, on October 2, 2008, the State Board of Education set new starting points, intermediate goals, and annual measurable objectives (AMOs) based on the new assessments. The Board also set new starting points, intermediate goals, and AMOs for grades 3-8 in reading. The new AMOs are:
Starting points, AMOs, and intermediate goals for reading and mathematics in high school
Starting Points, AMOs, and Intermediate Goals for Reading in Grades 3-8
Amendments that are not fully aligned with the statute and regulations
The following amendments do not comply with the statute or regulations. Therefore, they may not be included in North Carolina's accountability plan.
AYP determinations in 2007-08 (Element 3.2)
North Carolina is administering a new reading/language arts assessment in grades 3-8 in 2007-08. Due to standards-setting activities for the new assessments, reading/language arts assessment results will not be available prior to the start of the 2008-09 school year. The state proposed that the AYP determinations be based solely on the mathematics results in grades 3-8 and the high school reading/language arts and mathematics tests administered in 2007-08, rather than releasing AYP determinations based on mathematics results before the start of the school year and releasing AYP determinations based on the new reading/language arts results in October to avoid the confusion caused by multiple releases of AYP results. The Department cannot permit a state to base AYP determinations solely on the results of one subject's assessment. Doing so could lead to students not receiving needed interventions if a school's reading/language arts results indicate low performance.
Assessments for innovative schools (Element 6.1)
The Department cannot approve North Carolina's proposal to allow "innovative schools" (e.g., New School Project and Learn and Earn Schools) to use substitute assessments in place of the current North Carolina assessments for determining AYP unless those substitute assessments have been peer reviewed and determined to meet all of the ESEA requirements, including providing results comparable to North Carolina's approved general assessments. Section 1111(b)(1)(B) of the ESEA requires that "the academic standards…shall be the same academic standards that the state applies to all schools and children in the state." Section 1111(b)(2)(C) of the ESEA further requires that AYP be defined to "appl[y] the same high standards of academic achievement to all public elementary school and secondary school students in the state" and "measure…progress…based primarily on the academic assessments described in [1111(b)(3)]." The academic assessments required by section 1111(b)(3) of the ESEA must "enable all children to meet the state's challenging student academic achievement standards" and, among other things, be valid, reliable, and of high technical quality." If North Carolina wishes to pursue the use of substitute assessments, it must submit such assessments for peer review before they may be included in AYP determinations.
Graduation rate (Element 7.1)
The Department cannot approve North Carolina's proposal to use five years as the standard number of years for calculating cohort graduation rates for AYP purposes. This request is not permissible under section 1111(b)(2)(C)(vi) of the ESEA, which requires "graduation rates for public secondary school students (defined as the percentage of students who graduate from secondary school with a regular diploma in the standard number of years)." The Department does not believe that five years is the standard number of years for the vast majority of students to obtain a regular high school diploma.