The Department of Education is announcing a set of guiding principles to help states implement the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) while taking their unique situations into consideration. The Department will take these principles into account when discussing amendments to state accountability plans or consolidated applications to allow for innovation that helps states achieve the goals of NCLB.
Ensuring students are learning. The principle of raising overall achievement and closing achievement gaps is paramount. Even as the benefits of an educated citizenry are enjoyed individually and nationally, states and local districts have the primary responsibility to ensure that all students are learning and that achievement gaps are closing. States seeking additional flexibility must demonstrate significant improvement in student achievement that is readily apparent to the public. Evidence of such progress may be demonstrated in a number of ways, including:
- Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) results;
- Significant improvement trends in overall achievement or in specific grade levels on state assessments, particularly for subgroups;
- National Assessment of Educational Progress results that show overall improvement or reductions in the achievement gap.
Making the school system accountable. A strong standards, assessment and accountability system that applies to all public elementary and secondary schools and includes all public school students is a pillar of NCLB. Holding all students to academic content standards is critical to improving the achievement of all students.
This principle provides the tools for demonstrating results on the first principle. Without assessments, parents and the public do not know whether students are learning. Without valid and reliable accountability systems, there is little incentive for the system to improve. While both testing and accountability are not new to NCLB, this law has placed new importance on them. As states seek additional flexibility in implementing NCLB, the Department will consider the manner with which states are implementing these two fundamental aspects of NCLB. Evidence of such rigorous implementation may be demonstrated in a number of ways, including:
- Assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics are implemented in each of grades 3-8 and high school, or the state is on track to implement such assessments by 2005-06;
- Alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards are based on content standards;
- Student participation rates are consistently at 95% or above;
- The AYP definition, including key design elements such as the trajectory of all students reaching grade level by 2014, the use of confidence intervals, the establishment of reasonable and consistent subgroup sizes and subgroup inclusion in school AYP decisions, and expectations for significant improvements in graduation rates;
- All schools and districts receive an AYP decision, including small, specialized or alternative schools;
- A four-year longitudinal graduation rate that can also be disaggregated by student subgroups, or the state is within a year or two of being able to generate such information.
Ensuring information is accessible and options are available. This principle highlights the role of parents in their need to have easily accessible and understandable student and school information and in their desire to access educational options. NCLB introduced public school choice and supplemental educational services into the educational system in new ways. As states seek flexibility in implementing NCLB, the Department will consider the manner with which states have instituted these two new provisions and other aspects important to parents, such as district report cards. Evidence of such rigorous implementation may be demonstrated in a number of ways, including:
- A state has a coherent and easy-to-understand explanation of accountability, including how AYP and the state's accountability system work as a whole;
- Report cards are easy to understand, easy to find on a state's website and are readily available or accessible through other means (e.g., newspapers, direct mail);
- Schools are identified for improvement before the beginning of the school year;
- Providers of supplemental services (including community and faith-based organizations) are available in urban and rural areas, available for special education and limited English proficient students, and are rigorously evaluated;
- The state's school districts are implementing supplemental services in good faith, ensuring easy parental access to all state-approved providers;
- The state is working with its districts to expand capacity for public school choice.
Improving the quality of teachers. Key to informed parents and improved achievement is providing parents and the public accurate information on the quality of their local teaching force, implementing a rigorous system for ensuring teachers are highly qualified, and making aggressive efforts to ensure all children, beginning in the 2006-07 school year, are taught by highly qualified teachers. The success of this law rests to a great extent on the quality of a state's teaching force, and the extent to which teachers have a deep and meaningful knowledge of the subject(s) they teach. Evidence of such rigorous implementation may be demonstrated in a number of ways, including:
- States collect and accurately report on the percentage of classes in public elementary, middle, and secondary schools taught by highly qualified teachers;
- District letters sent to parents of Title I students who are taught by teachers who are not highly qualified are accurate, easily understood, and provided in a timely manner;
- States have assessments in place for elementary school teachers who are new to the profession to confirm that they know and are able to teach reading, writing, mathematics, and other areas of the elementary school curriculum;
- States require teachers to demonstrate subject matter competency though measures that rigorously evaluate their subject matter knowledge and teaching skills in each core academic subject they teach;
- States have policies in place to ensure that poor and minority students are taught by highly qualified teachers as often as their more affluent peers;
- States and districts provide high quality, intensive and sustained professional development to all teachers so they can improve and expand their skills knowledge, and success.
The examples above outline a number of ways in which states may demonstrate how they are meeting the fundamental principles of the No Child Left Behind Act. In addition to those principles, the Department may consider (when appropriate and as necessary) the following factors for approving additional flexibility under the law:
- Compliance with NCLB and its predecessor, the Improving America's Schools Act;
- Graduation and drop-out rates;
- Fiscal management;
- High school reform initiatives;
- Data infrastructure capabilities and state capacity to improve achievement;
- State academic standards;
- Availability of alternate teaching certification programs; and
- School improvement processes that integrate approaches to serve the needs of all students including those receiving special education and who are limited English proficient.
As the Department moves forward with the implementation of NCLB, the above guiding principles will guide our efforts. The Department will consider very carefully the extent to which states demonstrate progress and effective implementation in the areas covered by these principles. We intend to reward innovative and effective reformers and to use what we've learned from research, and the field, over the last three years to move the law and student achievement forward. We are willing to show states a more workable and informed approach on other aspects of the law, such as how students with persistent academic disabilities will be assessment and included in accountability. Another example of such flexibility could include a request for the use of growth models; or states may have their own proposals for demonstrating progress and effective implementation; these principles will help the Department consider and help states implement those ideas.