June 13, 2011
The Honorable Chris L. Nicastro
Commissioner of Education
Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education
205 Jefferson Street, 6th Floor
Jefferson City, Missouri 65102-0480
Dear Commissioner Nicastro:
I am writing in response to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (MDESE) request to waive certain statutory and regulatory requirements of Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended. In particular, MDESE requested a waiver of several statutory and regulatory provisions related to standards, assessments, and accountability to allow five elementary schools in the Kansas City 33 School District (KCSD) to assess students “out-of-level” (i.e., at their instructional level rather than at their grade level) and to use the results of such out-of-level testing to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) determinations. The request was for a period of four years beginning with assessments administered in school year 2010-2011.
Specifically, MDESE has requested this waiver to enable KCSD to pilot in five schools a student-centered system focused on instructing and assessing students based on standards appropriate to their instructional level. As explained in your waiver request, KCSD would determine each student’s baseline instructional level and establish a unique growth trajectory leading to proficiency by 2013-14 depending on the grade level at which a student’s baseline score is determined. KCSD would then develop an individualized educational plan for each student. For determining AYP, the percent proficient at the school and district levels will include the results of students tested at their instructional level. MDESE asserts that the pilot would provide students with more individualized attention, focus on the specific educational needs of each child, and ensure that each student masters concepts as he/she progresses through the learning program.
I understand and fully appreciate KCSD’s intent that the five pilot schools individualize instruction, focusing on the specific educational needs of each child. A school can and should differentiate instruction based on information from multiple sources, including the state assessments and other assessments that provide diagnostic, progress monitoring, and summative information. Nothing in the ESEA prevents KCSD or the pilot schools from pursuing these strategies. At the same time, I strongly support the ESEA requirement that instruction for all students must be based on grade-level academic content standards. To determine proficiency on grade-level content, students must be assessed on such content against grade-level academic achievement standards.
By using out of level assessments, KCSD would not be measuring all students in the pilot schools against grade-level achievement standards or holding those schools accountable for all students reaching grade-level proficiency. Accordingly, after reviewing and giving careful consideration to MDESE’s request, I am declining to exercise my waiver authority and am not granting your request.
If you have any questions, please contact Sharon Hall of my staff at 202-260-0998.
Deputy Assistant Secretary
for Policy and Strategic Initiatives
cc: John Covington, Ed.D.