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Decision Letter on Request to Amend Pennsylvania Accountability Plan

July 2, 2007

Dr. Gerald L. Zahorchak
Secretary of Education
Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17126

Dear Secretary Zahorchak:

I am writing in response to Pennsylvania'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 our discussions with your staff, the approved changes are now included in an amended State accountability plan that Pennsylvania submitted to the Department on June 28, 2007, which we will post on the Department's website. A summary of the amendments submitted for the 2006-07 school year is enclosed with this letter. As you know, any further requests to amend the Pennsylvania accountability plan must be submitted to the Department for review and approval as required by section 1111(f)(2) of Title I.

Please also be aware that approval of Pennsylvania'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 am confident that Pennsylvania will continue to advance its efforts to hold schools and school districts accountable for the achievement of all students. If you need any additional assistance to implement the standards, assessment, and accountability provisions of NCLB, please do not hesitate to contact Patrick Rooney (Patrick.Rooney@ed.gov) or David Harmon (David.Harmon@ed.gov) of my staff.

Sincerely,

Kerri L. Briggs, Ph.D.

Enclosure

cc: Governor Ed Rendell
Shula Nedley


Amendments to the Pennsylvania 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 the complete Pennsylvania accountability plan.

Acceptable amendments

The following amendments are aligned with the statute and regulations.

Assessments (Element 1.1)

Revision: Pennsylvania clarified that its assessment system is now administered annually in grades 3-8 and high school.

Including students with disabilities in AYP determinations (Element 5.3)

Revision: Pennsylvania will use the "proxy method" (option 1 in our guidance dated December 2005) to take advantage of the interim flexibility regarding calculating adequate yearly progress (AYP) for the students with disabilities subgroup (refer to: http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/secletter/070207.html). Pennsylvania will calculate a proxy to determine the percentage of students with disabilities that is equivalent to 2.0 percent of all students assessed. This proxy will then be added to the percentage of students with disabilities who are proficient. For any school or district that did not make AYP solely due to its students with disabilities subgroup, Pennsylvania will use this adjusted percentage proficient to re-examine if the school or district made AYP for the 2006-07 school year.

Inclusion of students no longer receiving services in the students with disabilities subgroup (Element 5.3)

Revision: Pennsylvania will include, for a period of 2 years, the scores of students previously identified with a disability under section 602(3) of the IDEA, but who have exited from special education services, in the students with disabilities subgroup.

Unacceptable amendments

The following amendments are not aligned with the statute and regulations and are therefore not approved.

Differentiated interventions (Element 1.6)

Pennsylvania proposed several levels of interventions for schools identified as in need of improvement, depending upon the extent of the failure of the school to make AYP. The Department cannot approve Pennsylvania's proposal of how consequences are implemented for schools identified as in need of improvement because it is inconsistent with section 1116 of the statute.

Reversing the order of public school choice and supplemental educational services (SES) (Element 1.6)

Pennsylvania proposed that schools that fail to make AYP for two consecutive years offer SES in the first year of being identified as in need of improvement rather than public school choice. When a school fails to make AYP for three consecutive years, both SES and public school choice would be offered. The Department cannot approve this request because it is inconsistent with section 1116 of the ESEA. The Secretary is currently evaluating the pilot program to allow a few districts in some States to reverse the order of offering public school choice and SES for schools identified as in need of improvement. In the near future, the Department intends to open this pilot to all States who meet the eligibility requirements.

Same subgroup/same subject identification for AYP (Element 9.1)

Section 1116(b)(1) of Title I requires a State to identify for school improvement any Title I school that fails, for two consecutive years, to make AYP as defined under section 1111(b)(2). There is flexibility in section 1111(b)(2) to permit a State to determine schools in need of improvement on the basis of not making AYP in the same subject for two consecutive years. This flexibility stems from other provisions in the statute that treat reading and mathematics independently (e.g., separate starting points and annual measurable objectives). These provisions recognize that student achievement in reading and mathematics in a State may be starting at very different points and thus the State would need to establish different trajectories to attain 100 percent proficiency. Concomitantly, it makes sense to permit a State to identify schools in need of improvement based on not making AYP for two years in the same subject. Subgroups, on the other hand, are not treated differently in the statute and thus the statute does not support similar flexibility to identify schools in need of improvement on the basis of "same subgroup" performance for two consecutive years. Moreover, this is inconsistent with the statute's accountability provisions in section 1111(b)(2)(C), which require that each subgroup meet the State's annual objectives in each subject each year. The intent of school identification is not to lay blame on a particular group of students, as the "same subgroup/same subject" proposal would do, but to identify the instructional and academic areas that need to be improved. A school that is identified for improvement should look to specific instructional remedies in the subject area, other indicator, or participation rate that resulted in its identification.

Include a growth model in AYP determinations (Element 3.2)

Pennsylvania requested to implement a growth model as a means to demonstrate that schools or districts make AYP. The Pennsylvania growth model was forwarded to a group of peer reviewers through the Secretary's growth model pilot. Based upon the results of the peer review on March 15-16, 2007, the Department decided not to approve Pennsylvania to implement its growth model in 2006-07.

Including grade 12 retest results in AYP determinations (Element 5.1)

The Department cannot approve Pennsylvania's proposal to re-calculate high school AYP results from the prior year to include the results of students who score proficient on the 12th-grade retest of the general assessment (PSSA). Section 1111(b)(3)(C)(ii) of the ESEA requires that a State's assessments "be aligned with the State's challenging academic content and student academic achievement standards, and provide coherent information about student attainment of such standards." The PSSA is designed by the State to align to the State's 11th-grade academic content standards. Therefore, even if students score proficient on the 12th-grade retest, they have not demonstrated that they meet Pennsylvania's high school content standards, which are based on what the State deems students should know by 11th grade. In addition, the ESEA requires the timely notification to parents and the public regarding school and district AYP determinations. Allowing a re-test of 12th-graders and re-calculating AYP determinations for the prior year would cause confusion regarding the meaning of those determinations; the statute does not allow for re-correcting of AYP determinations after the fact based upon re-tests in subsequent years.

Definition of limited English proficient (LEP) students (Element 5.4)

Pennsylvania proposed to exempt LEP students from participation in the State's reading assessment until they reach a score of 3 (Developing) on the English language proficiency assessment or are in their third year of receiving English as a Second Language (ESL) services. The Department cannot approve this request because it is not consistent with the statute or in line with the Department's September 2006 regulations regarding "recently arrived" LEP students, who may be exempted from one, and only one, administration of the reading/language arts assessment in their first 12 months of schooling in the United States.

Decision Letters on State Accountability Plans


 
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Last Modified: 07/03/2007