February 12, 2014
The Honorable Brad A. Buck
Director of Education
Iowa Department of Education
Grimes State Office Building
400 E. 14th St.
Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0146
Dear Director Buck:
I am writing in response to the Iowa Department of Education’s (IDE) request on behalf of selected schools to waive certain statutory and regulatory requirements of Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (ESEA). Specifically, IDE has requested on behalf of the selected schools a one-year waiver to allow the selected schools to field test assessments in 2013–2014 in mathematics and reading/language arts aligned to college- and career-ready standards developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) in lieu of the State’s assessments in grades 3, 5, 6, and 7. IDE also requested this flexibility with respect to alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities developed by the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) consortium. IDE did not request flexibility with respect to students in grades 4, 8, and 11 because Iowa State law requires that students in these grades take the State assessment. IDE also requested flexibility in making accountability determinations for the selected schools.
I am pleased to grant, pursuant to my authority under section 9401 of the ESEA, a one-year waiver of the following statutory and regulatory requirements under Title I, Part A of the ESEA and their associated regulatory provisions:
- ESEA sections 1111(b)(1)(B) and 1111(b)(3)(C)(i), which require a State educational agency (SEA) to apply the same academic achievement standards, and to use the same academic assessments, for all public school children in the State. IDE requested these waivers so that any individual student in grades 3, 5, 6, and 7 within Iowa will be required to take only one assessment in each content area in 2013–2014 — either the current State assessment or the full form of the field test of the new assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards.
- ESEA section 1111(b)(3)(C)(xii), which requires the provision of individual student interpretive, descriptive, and diagnostic reports that include information regarding achievement on State assessments to parents, teachers, and principals as soon as is practically possible after an assessment is given. IDE requested this waiver to permit IDE and its local educational agencies (LEAs) to refrain from producing or providing these reports for a student’s performance on a field test.
- ESEA sections 1111(h)(1)(C)(ii) and 1111(h)(2)(B), which require an SEA and an LEA, respectively, to report on performance against annual measurable objectives (AMOs). IDE requested these waivers to permit IDE and its LEAs to refrain from reporting performance against AMOs for the subject(s) being field tested in any school or single-school LEA that participates in the field test of the new assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards.
- ESEA sections 1116(a)(1)(A) and 1116(c)(1)(A), which require an LEA and an SEA, respectively, to use the State’s academic assessments and other academic indicators to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) determinations for schools and LEAs. IDE requested this waiver to permit an LEA within Iowa that has one or more schools participating in the field test to refrain from making AYP determinations for each of those schools and to permit IDE to refrain from making AYP determinations for a single-school LEA participating in the field test.
This waiver is granted to the IDE on the condition that it will implement the following assurances:
- The IDE and its LEAs will ensure that all students in the tested grades who do not take a field test in a particular subject will take the current State assessment in that subject, as required by the ESEA.
- The IDE and its LEAs will make AYP determinations for all schools that do not participate in the field test and for all LEAs (except single-school LEAs that participate in the field test) based on current State assessments administered in the 2013–2014 school year.
- The IDE and its LEAs will report performance against AMOs for a subject that is not being field tested in a school that participates in the field test, for all schools that do not participate in the field test, and for all LEAs (except single-school LEAs that participate in the field test of a tested subject) based on current State assessments administered in the 2013–2014 school year.
- The IDE and its LEAs will meet all reporting obligations with respect to reporting the actual achievement of students who take the current State assessments.
- The IDE has properly notified all LEAs and schools that will participate in the field test of that participation.
- The IDE has ensured that parents of students in each school participating in the field test have been notified of the school’s participation, including by ensuring that the notification to parents includes a discussion of the implications of the school’s participation in the field test and a notification of whether the parents’ child will participate in the field test.
- Pending action by the Iowa legislature, in the 2014–2015 school year, the IDE will administer the new reading/language arts and mathematics assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards, as well as its State science assessments, to all students in the grades required to be tested in accordance with the ESEA.
- The IDE will resume making AYP determinations for all schools and all single-school LEAs based on assessments administered in the 2014–2015 school year.
Please be aware that this waiver of requirements related to Iowa’s standards and assessment system under the ESEA is not a determination that the system complies with Federal civil rights requirements, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This waiver also does not apply to statutory and regulatory requirements regarding science assessments under Title I, Part A of the ESEA.
IDE also requested flexibility beyond what was offered in the Secretary’s June 18, 2013 letter. First, IDE requested determination flexibility for schools that are continuing to use the Iowa State assessments in grades 4, 8, and 11. IDE asserted that a high school, for example, might not have an incentive to field test the SBAC assessments if it must nevertheless be held accountable for student achievement on Iowa’s State assessments. IDE also indicated that many local school boards want to continue to provide yearly assessment reports to parents and thus must double test to receive a usable report. I am not approving this portion of IDE’s request. As indicated in A-3 of the Department’s guidance on field-test flexibility http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/esea-flexibility/college-career-ready/index an SEA may not request only the determination flexibility without also requesting the double-testing flexibility. Because an SEA is administering its current State assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics for students in grades 4, 8 and 11, alone or in conjunction with a field test, the SEA would have valid and reliable assessment data on which to base accountability determinations for those schools. Thus, there would be no need for the determination flexibility. Although this decision would mean that IDE must make AYP determinations for high schools that continue to assess students in grade 11 on the State’s assessments, IDE’s waiver from making AYP determinations for any school or single-school LEA that participates in the field test in grades 3, 5, 6, or 7 would apply even if those schools also serve grades 4 or 8. As a result, I do not believe there is a need to exceed the flexibility the Secretary originally offered.
Second, IDE requested permission to exclude all assessment results for students in schools that participate in the SBAC field test when making AYP determinations for an LEA. IDE commented that it is more manageable to exclude data for whole schools when making AYP determinations for an LEA rather than excluding data only for students who actually participate in the field test. IDE also requested permission to “freeze” the AYP determination of an LEA in which at least half the schools are participating in the SBAC field test. I am not approving this portion of IDE’s request. Provided an SEA has sufficient achievement data at the LEA level to make a valid and reliable AYP determination, I believe it is important to hold that LEA accountable. Our purpose in affording flexibility with respect to accountability at the school level was to acknowledge that, depending on the number of students in a school participating in the field test, there might not be sufficient data available from a State’s current assessments to make valid and reliable AYP determinations. That likelihood, however, is greatly diminished at the LEA level.
Finally, IDE requested permission to count students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who take the DLM field test as proficient for accountability purposes. IDE reasoned that excluding these students from the students with disabilities subgroup would adversely affect accountability for that subgroup. I am not approving IDE’s request. Because student results from a field test are not valid or reliable measures, there is no basis to conclude that students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who take that field test are proficient.
I hope you find the flexibility afforded through the waiver that I have granted helpful. I look forward to working with you and your staff as you implement this flexibility and as you continue working to improve education in Iowa.
Deborah S. Delisle
cc: Tom Teeter