September 7, 2000
TO: Chief State School Officers
FROM: Michael Cohen, Assistant Secretary
SUBJECT: Update on Review of Final Assessment Systems Under Title I and Reminder of October 1 Deadline for Submission of Evidence
I am writing to report to you on the status of the Education Department's review, under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), of State final assessment systems, and to remind those States that have not yet submitted evidence of the fast approaching final deadline for demonstrating compliance with the Title I assessment requirements. Below is an overview of the status of the review process as well as a summary of issues raised and lessons learned from our reviews of State assessment systems to date.
Final Assessment Materials Submitted by 25 States
First, I want to thank each of the 25 States that has already submitted evidence on its final assessment system for review-California, Connecticut, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Their submissions have required a significant effort on the part of State Education Agency staff and have often benefited, with leadership from their Chief State School Officers, from careful cooperation between Title I and State assessment staff.
October 1 Deadline
The remaining 25 States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have not yet submitted their final assessment evidence for review by the Department. The final submission deadline, October 1, is rapidly approaching. As I indicated in my June 8 correspondence to Chief State School Officers, the Education Department takes this deadline very seriously, and is prepared to withhold Title I administrative funds to any State that does not submit its assessment system for review. Approximately half of the remaining States have already contacted us to indicate that they will meet the October 1 deadline. Department staff are in the process of contacting those States we have not heard from to discuss the submission and review process.
Status and Decisions on Final Assessment Systems Under Review
To date, Wyoming has received full approval, while Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Washington have received conditional approval of their final assessment systems. The Chief State School Officer in each of these States has agreed to make specific changes to the State's assessment and/or accountability system in order to fully comply with the Title I requirements. Copies of these letters, which include a listing of the conditions States need to meet to be fully approved, are available on the Web at www.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/saa.html.
After speaking with the Chief State School Officers in six States reviewed in May-California, Delaware, Louisiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee-I requested additional information in order to improve our understanding of the State's assessment system or to resolve outstanding issues prior to completion of the review process. In some cases these requests for additional information were made because a State's submission was incomplete or because important developments have occurred since the material was submitted. In other cases, it was clear that if we gave the State some additional time, it could provide documentation that would lead to full approval. In several instances we have requested additional information that will enable us to complete action on a State's Ed-Flex application and assessment system at the same time. I expect to make decisions on these States, based on additional submissions of evidence, in the near future.
Peer reviewers recently completed review of the 12 States that submitted their final assessments by July 1. Department staff is working with staff from Maryland, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, and West Virginia to clarify issues that were raised by the review process. My staff has begun briefing me on the status of each State, and I expect to soon begin calling the Chiefs from those States to discuss the results of the reviews.
I am pleased to report that this has been an extremely cooperative process to date, notwithstanding the complexity of the issues and the importance of this matter to both State education systems and the federal government. In most States, there have been extensive staff-level discussions to clarify and, where possible, resolve issues that were identified during the peer review process. To ensure open and accurate communications, I make it a practice to talk directly with each Chief State School Officer before we make any final decisions. These steps have sometimes prolonged the review and decision-making process, but I believe they have increased the quality of our reviews and improved the ability of States to meet the Title I requirements. Our approach is to work cooperatively with the Chief State School Officers and State Education Agency staff to find ways of working together to help States satisfy Title I requirements in a fashion that best fits with the State's own approach to assessment and accountability. I look forward to working with every State in this spirit of cooperation.
Issues Raised During the Final Assessment Review Process
Our reviews of final State assessment systems to date have revealed several issues that are important for all States to consider as they work through finalizing and improving their assessment and accountability efforts. I want to review some of the most important issues here.
As you know, Title I requires that all students be included in the State assessment system, including limited English proficient students and students with disabilities. As we had anticipated, this requirement has posed challenges for many States. The Title I statute requires that State assessment systems provide for the participation of all students in the grades being assessed; reasonable adaptations and accommodations for students with diverse learning needs necessary to measure student performance relative to State standards; and the inclusion of limited English proficient students who must be assessed, to the extent practicable, in the manner and form most likely to yield accurate and reliable information on their performance relative to State standards. Students with disabilities must also be included in the State assessment system, either by taking the same assessment provided to other students (with or without accommodations), or by taking an alternate assessment as provided for by the student's Individual Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504 team.
After reviewing a now substantial number of State assessment systems, I want to highlight a few issues related to exemption policies:
States must provide for an individualized determination of the most appropriate language and form of assessment, based on each student's English language proficiency, native language proficiency, language of instruction and other factors. To date, we have asked several States to end policies that provide for blanket exemptions of two or more years for limited English proficient students. We expect this will be a continuing issue but are pleased that some States are taking action to change these policies prior to submitting their final assessment evidence.
States that meet this requirement have approached it in a number of different ways. Some States we reviewed require school districts to administer a particular English language proficiency test statewide to determine a student's ability to participate in the standard administration of the State assessment. Other States permit local education agencies to select a language proficiency assessment from a State-approved list, and provide clear guidance on the interpretation and use of the results of the assessment for making exemption decisions. A number of States that we reviewed will be asked to strengthen their guidance and monitoring efforts in the area of individual exemptions. In all cases, such exemption decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
Inclusion and Exemption Practices
As we have reviewed State submissions of evidence on inclusion policies and practices, we have tried to look not only at State policies, but also at State practice. Ultimately, inclusion policies must be judged by results. In addition to official State policies on inclusion, the Department has reviewed the actual rates of inclusion of students in the State assessment, as well as alternate and/or modified assessments. We have examined not only overall participation rates, but also the rates of participation of limited English proficient students and students with disabilities.
We know the reality is that States are still working on making their assessment systems accessible to all students. However, in our decisions on State assessment systems to date we are asking every State to improve in this area. Where statewide participation rates are low and exemption rates high, we have generally asked a State to take additional steps to improve participation rates, even if the inclusion policies as written appear to be acceptable on their face. These steps may include changes in accommodation practices, increased monitoring of local exemption practices, or increasing accountability and consequences for local school districts that fail to include all students in the State testing program.
Inclusion in Accountability
All students, including limited English proficient students and students with disabilities must be included in the State's accountability system; the performance of these students may not be excluded from the determination of whether a school is making adequate progress toward helping its students meet State standards. (For a more detailed discussion of these requirements, see "Summary Guidance on the Inclusion Requirement for Title I Final Assessments at http://www.ed.gov/ offices/OESE/saa/inclusion.html.)
On the latter point, States can and have taken different approaches to integrating exemptions into their accountability systems. All States are expected to report the numbers of students exempted from testing on State, district, and school reports. Some States assign exempted students a zero on the State assessment for the purposes of school accountability. Other States include exemption rates as a factor in definitions of adequate yearly progress. Still other States assign rewards and incentives to schools based on their efforts to reduce exemptions from the State assessment. Each of these approaches is acceptable as a mechanism for integrating all students-even those students who for some extraordinary reason are exempted from the standard administration of the State assessment-into measures of school accountability.
Disaggregation of Data
As you know, Title I requires that State assessment results be disaggregated within the State, districts, and schools by gender, racial and ethnic groups, English proficiency status, migrant status, by students with disabilities compared to non-disabled students and by economically disadvantaged students as compared to students who are not economically disadvantaged.
As we have reviewed State submissions of evidence, we have noticed that many States are not making the required comparisons in the area of disability and economic disadvantage. Title I requires that these comparisons be explicit on State, district, and school performance reports. Comparing disabled student performance or the performance of economically disadvantaged students to the performance of all students is not adequate for meeting this requirement.
Reminders for States That Have Not Yet Submitted Evidence
Staff from States that have already participated in this review know that the process sometimes requires back and forth between Education Department staff and State staff to make sure all of the necessary information is provided. For the 25 States, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia that have not submitted final assessment evidence, the following are areas where we have often needed clarifying information. To the extent that you can ensure that this information is included in your initial submission, it will help ensure a timely and accurate review.
Thank you again for your efforts and your cooperation. I wish you the best of luck as you begin a new school year. If you have any questions or issues you would like to discuss regarding these matters, please do not hesitate to call me at 202-401-0113.
This memorandum is being sent to you via Chiefline and through the regular mail. It will also be sent electronically to State Assessment and Title I Directors.
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This page last modified September 14, 2000 (sbw)