ELEMENTARY & SECONDARY EDUCATION
Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
August 1, 2008
Archived Information


August 1, 2008

Dear Chief State School Officers:

As you know, on March 18, 2008, I announced a new differentiated accountability pilot that provides eligible states an opportunity to use their own methods of categorizing schools identified for improvement and to vary the intensity and interventions to match the academic reasons that led to a school's identification.  Following a peer review by outside experts, I recently approved six states -- Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, and Ohio -- to participate in the differentiated accountability pilot for the 2008-09 school year.  As we continue to work with Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), and because we have not yet reached our initial cap of ten states to participate in the pilot, I am offering eligible states the opportunity to submit a proposal to incorporate differentiated accountability into their current accountability system for the 2009-10 school year based on assessments administered in 2008-09. 

This pilot will provide states the flexibility to more precisely focus interventions (under section 1116 of ESEA) on schools with the greatest need, thereby promoting meaningful reform in schools, providing increased options for parents and students, and improving teacher effectiveness.  The pilot will not, however, allow states to diminish their focus on having all students achieve grade-level proficiency in reading and mathematics by 2013-14 nor will it allow states to circumvent the requirements to fix struggling schools.  Under the pilot, participating states must determine adequate yearly progress (AYP) consistent with section 1111 of ESEA and with any measures of student growth that have been approved by this Department. 

I will continue to place a priority on the following: (1) states that have at least 20 percent of their Title I schools identified for improvement; (2) proposals to implement differentiated accountability models that include significant and comprehensive interventions for the lowest-performing schools earlier in the improvement timeline; and (3) proposals for innovative models of differentiation and interventions.  Within the bounds of the core principles, we are interested in selecting a broad array of models for the pilot and will look for innovation, enhanced parental options, and strong accountability, combined with a rigorous approach toward reform. 

States wishing to submit proposals for the differentiated accountability pilot must do so no later than September 17, 2008.  All proposals must be consistent with the ten core principles that I laid out last March.  These core principles are outlined in the differentiated accountability peer review guidance (http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/daguidance.doc).  I understand that these principles and priorities set a high bar that not every state will be able to meet.  However, this rigorous approach is the only way to balance the proposed flexibility of the pilot with a continued focus on the "bright-line principles" of NCLB and the goal of universal proficiency by 2014.  In addition to satisfying the ten core principles, the proposal must successfully explain how the model would ensure meaningful reform for schools (individually and as a system) and would lead to all students being proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014.  States may propose a differentiated accountability system for schools, districts, or both. 

To be eligible to participate in the differentiated accountability pilot, a state must meet the following criteria:

  1. The state's standards and assessment system must be fully approved as administered in the 2008-09 school year.
  2. The state may have no significant outstanding monitoring findings related either to NCLB or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requirements. 
  3. The state must have a plan for meeting the requirements in NCLB for highly qualified teachers that has been approved by the Department. 
  4. The state must provide timely and transparent AYP information to the public.  States that have more than one unapproved occurrence of late AYP notification in the past two years are not eligible.
  5. For any state that proposes either to reverse the order in which it offers public school choice and supplemental educational services (SES) to eligible students or to offer both public school choice and SES to eligible students in schools in the first year of improvement, the state must also be conducting an evaluation of the extent to which its SES providers are contributing to student achievement and must have, at a minimum, started the process of collecting data for the evaluation. 

Enclosed with this letter is a description of the process for states to submit proposals for this pilot.  Before a proposal is approved by the Department, it will be reviewed by a panel of external experts and evaluated against the ten core principles.  The peers will evaluate how the proposal meets each of the core principles, including the educational and technical soundness of the model, how the state uses data to support the differentiated accountability model, and the rigor of the state's approach to differentiated accountability.  If you are unsure of your state's eligibility status, please contact Dr. Kerri Briggs, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, prior to submitting your proposal. 

The Department will rigorously evaluate this pilot to determine its effectiveness in improving student achievement, will annually review information on how it is working in each state, and will share the results with other states, policymakers, and the public to further inform the reauthorization of NCLB and school improvement practices in general.  To that end, each approved state must participate in the Department's evaluation of its model and must provide data to the Department comparing its model with its current accountability system and describing the interventions applied to schools and the effects of differentiated accountability on student achievement and school reform.  Each approved state whose model reverses the order in which public school choice and SES are offered to eligible students may need to satisfy other conditions as well. 

We learned a great deal in reviewing the first round of differentiated accountability proposals, and the Department will be taking into account feedback from the peers when reviewing new proposals.  Following the review, the peers created a summary document of crosscutting themes they identified across the 17 state proposals they reviewed.  For example, the peers noted that not all of the proposed interventions were tied to the specific reasons a school or local educational agency (LEA) is in improvement, as they should be.  The peers also raised concerns that states did not put in place a process to revisit and refine the methods of differentiation.  Other issues identified by the peers related to states' evaluation processes, states' use of data to make decisions on differentiation and interventions, and states' failure to focus on the role of the LEA in the school improvement process.  I recommend that any state interested in submitting a proposal review the peers' summary document, which can be found on our Web site at: http://www.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/
differentiatedaccountability/prsummary.doc
.

To assist states in their proposal writing efforts, we will be hosting a roundtable at the Department on Monday, August 18, 2008, to discuss methods of differentiation and evaluation.  Several peer reviewers and staff from the states that submitted proposals will join Department staff for this roundtable.  I encourage any state interested in submitting a proposal to send a delegate to participate in this discussion.  If you are interested in participating, please send an e-mail to applications@ed.gov by August 4, 2008, with the name and contact information for your state's delegate.  To make the most of this roundtable, states should come prepared to discuss specific ideas and plans. 

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to mention that the Department is planning to convene another peer review of state growth model proposals this fall.  We will release updated guidance soon and anticipate setting a submission deadline of mid-October.  More information will be forthcoming.  Please do not hesitate to contact Assistant Secretary Briggs with any additional questions or concerns.  We look forward to working with you to implement innovative and effective methods to improve school accountability and raise student achievement. 

  Sincerely,
 
/s/
  Margaret Spellings

Enclosure


cc: Governors



Enclosure

PROPOSALS FOR THE DIFFERENTIATED ACCOUNTABILITY PILOT PROGRAM

 

When should a state submit its proposal?
A state that wishes to incorporate differentiated accountability into its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability system in the 2009-10 school year should submit its proposal by September 17, 2008.  A state submitting a proposal should send it electronically to applications@ed.gov with attention to Assistant Secretary Kerri Briggs. 

What is the approval process? 
The Department of Education (Department) will review whether a state is eligible to participate in the pilot.  Before a proposal is approved by the Department, it will be reviewed by a panel of outside experts and evaluated against the ten core principles, and the panel will make recommendations to the Secretary.  If a state's proposal is approved by the Secretary, the final proposal must be electronically submitted to the Department as part of the state’s amended accountability workbook.  The Department will post each approved state's differentiated accountability plan on the Department's Web site so that it is readily accessible to the general public. 

What are the eligibility criteria?
To be eligible to participate in the differentiated accountability pilot, a state must meet the following criteria:

  1. Approved standards and assessment system.  The state's standards and assessment system must be fully approved by the Department as administered in the 2008-09 school year.  The state's standards and assessment system includes annual assessments in each of grades 3-8 and high school in both reading and mathematics (including alternate assessments), and science assessments (including alternate assessments) in at least one grade in each of three grade spans (3-5, 6-9 and 10-12). 
  2. No significant outstanding monitoring findings.  The state may have no significant outstanding monitoring findings related either to NCLB or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requirements. 
  3. Approved highly qualified teacher plan.  The state must have a plan for meeting the requirements in NCLB for highly qualified teachers that has been approved by the Department. 
  4. Timely AYP determinations.  The state must provide timely and transparent adequate yearly progress (AYP) information to the public.  States that have more than one unapproved occurrence of late AYP notification in the past two years are not eligible. 
  5. Evaluation of SES providers. For any state that proposes either to reverse the order in which it offers public school choice and supplemental educational services (SES) to eligible students or to offer both public school choice and SES to eligible students in schools in the first year of improvement, the state must also be conducting an evaluation of the extent to which its SES providers are contributing to student achievement and must have, at a minimum, started the process of collecting data for the evaluation. 

What is the flexibility agreement?
A state that is approved to participate in the pilot program must enter into a flexibility agreement with the Department under section 9401 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by NCLB.  In the flexibility agreement, the Department may place reasonable conditions on the state in exchange for the flexibility granted to the state through the differentiated accountability pilot.  As required by section 9401(b)(3)(A) of ESEA, within 30 days of being approved to participate in the pilot, the state must provide all interested school districts in the state with notice of the flexibility agreement in the manner in which it customarily provides similar notice to the public and a reasonable opportunity to comment.  Within 30 days thereafter, the state must submit any comments to the Secretary. 

How long does the flexibility agreement last?
States will be approved to implement their models for up to four years (for example, in the case of a four-year pilot, the 2009-10 through 2012-13 school years), unless reauthorization of NCLB changes the requirements on which those models are based.  States will be required to report annually on their progress, which the Department will review to determine that the state's differentiated accountability plan is implemented as proposed.  The Department may terminate the flexibility agreement at any time for noncompliance with the agreement.

When can implementation begin?
A state must be notified by the Department through a formal approval letter that its proposal has been approved before it implements its proposed differentiated accountability model. 

 


 
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Last Modified: 08/04/2008