December 11, 2003
December 11, 2003
Dear Chief State School Officers:As we approach the second anniversary of the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), we can reflect on the tremendous progress we have made for our children. I thank you for your dedicated service to our nation and to the goal of providing a high-quality education for all students. It has been an honor to partner with you as we work together to overcome our nation's educational challenges.
No Child Left Behind provides historic levels of resources and flexibility to improve results for all children, especially for those who may need extra assistance meeting state goals. In NCLB, we have a powerful tool to support our efforts to provide all children opportunities to make progress, meet academic goals, and receive the education they deserve.
One of our continuing challenges is that, in some cases, students with disabilities have been excluded from assessments and accountability systems, and as a result they may not have received the academic attention that they deserved. As parents of children with disabilities note, such exclusion not only makes it difficult for parents to know whether their children are getting a quality education, but also wrongly stigmatizes children with disabilities as unable to achieve to high standards. Through the 1997 Amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), we have been working to include all students with disabilities in state assessments and increase their access to the general curriculum.
I am writing to inform you of a new regulation that offers some valuable flexibility in meeting the law's goals for including students with disabilities in state assessment and accountability systems. The Department developed this regulation after publishing a proposed regulation and considering the public comments we received.
Specifically, this new regulation permits states to use alternate achievement standards to measure the progress of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. These alternate achievement standards must be aligned with the state's academic content standards, promote access to the general curriculum, and reflect professional judgment of the highest achievement standards possible; they do not, however, have to measure grade-level achievement. When measuring Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), states and school districts may count the "proficient" or "advanced" scores of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who take assessments based on alternate achievement standards - so long as the number of those proficient and advanced scores does not exceed one percent of all students in the grades tested at the state or district level, respectively (about nine percent of students with disabilities). Without this flexibility, those scores would have to be assessed against grade-level standards and would be considered "not proficient."
The new provision will ensure that schools, districts and states receive credit for the progress of all children - including students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. The new regulation takes effect on January 8, 2004. The regulation is available on our website at http://www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/finrule/2003-4/120903a.html.
This new provision also protects children with disabilities from being excluded from accountability systems that provide valuable information to parents and educators. All students - including students with disabilities - deserve teachers who believe in their potential and who will encourage them to achieve to high standards, just as all parents and teachers ought to have the assessment information they need to target their efforts and provide all students a high-quality education.
I am enclosing a summary of the key regulatory provisions. I have also directed my staff to undertake a number of outreach efforts to ensure that information on this new regulation is accessible and clearly understood. Information on these efforts will be forthcoming. As you work to improve the accessibility of your assessment and accountability system for the widest range of students possible, we would like to hear from you about how we can help.
If you wish to discuss the implications of this regulation for your state assessment
and accountability system, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for
your many efforts on behalf of these students. I look forward to our continued
partnership as we work together to ensure no child is left behind.