May 18, 2001
Honorable Edward R. Richardson
Superintendent of Education
Alabama Department of Education
Gordon Persons Office Building
50 North Ripley Street
P.O. Box 302102
Montgomery, Alabama 36130
Dear Superintendent Richardson:
I am pleased that we had the opportunity to discuss the findings of the Department's review of Alabama's final assessment system under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As you know, Congress adopted these requirements as part of the major overhaul of Title I in 1994. The statute requires each State to implement a system of challenging content and performance standards, aligned assessments, and school accountability for the 2000-2001 school year.
I know that we both share the goal of having, as soon as possible, a full and functioning assessment system that supports education improvement in Alabama and that meets the Title I requirements. These requirements are intended to ensure that every school and school district participating in Title I is focused on improving results for all students, as defined by the State's own academic standards. We applaud your willingness to make modifications in your current assessment system to meet the Title I requirements and to address the needs of all the children in Alabama. We will to work cooperatively with Alabama to fulfill the remaining requirements in a timely fashion.
You will recall from our phone discussion that several aspects of Alabama's assessment system do not meet the requirements of sections 1111(b)(3) and 1116(a) of Title I. These must be addressed in order for Alabama to remain eligible to receive Title I funds.
Final Assessment System: Title I requires that, for the purposes of school accountability, States administer assessments yearly to students in at least reading/language arts and math, in three grade spans (grades 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12). Title I also requires that State assessments be aligned with State content and performance standards, and that the assessment systems use multiple measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding.
Alabama partially meets these requirements. Alabama meets the requirement of at least one grade assessed in each of the three grade spans and also the two subject areas because the State include the SAT-9 scores in reading and mathematics in grades 3-11 for accountability purposes. However, Alabama still needs to submit evidence on how the State will include multiple measures in its assessment system and on how the final assessment system assesses higher-order thinking skills.
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Performance Standards: Title I requires that each State submit evidence of performance standards that describe three levels of performance aligned with content standards for each of the three required grade spans by the 1997-98 school year.
Alabama has not met this requirement. Alabama has developed performance descriptors, but the State has not developed cut scores for performance standards on an aligned assessment.
Alignment: Title I requires that final assessments be aligned with content and performance standards in at least math and reading/language arts, as well as any other subject area in which a State has adopted standards.
The test publishing company used by your State completed an analysis of the alignment of the SAT-9 and the Alabama Course of Study and identified a number of gaps between the assessments and the standards. However, Alabama has not provided a description of how it will address these gaps. Moreover, this alignment analysis did not provide information on the depth and match of the SAT-9 with the State's performance standards, or on the cognitive complexity of the SAT-9 compared with Alabama's content standards.
Technical Quality: Title I requires that the State assessments be used for purposes for which such assessments are valid and reliable, and be consistent with relevant, nationally recognized professional and technical standards for such assessments.
Alabama meets this requirement. The technical quality of the SAT-9, as used for the purposes for which it was designed, appears to be adequate. There is documentation that the test is consistent with professional standards.
Inclusion of All Students in Assessments and Accountability: Title I requires that States' final assessments provide for the participation of all students in the grades being assessed. The statute specifically requires the inclusion of limited English proficient (LEP) students in final assessments and makes clear that States must assess LEP students, to the extent practicable, in the language and form most likely to yield accurate and reliable information on what they know and can do in subjects other than English. Furthermore, Title I requires States to provide reasonable adaptations and accommodations for students with diverse learning needs, including LEP students and students with disabilities (SWD).
Alabama does not yet meet these requirements. Currently Alabama has a time-based exemption for LEP students of 2 years. LEP accommodations also are very limited for the SAT-9. The SAT-9 is used as the sole factor in determining a school's accountability status, but the scores of students receiving special education are currently not included in classifying a school or LEA in
the accountability system. According to Alabama guidance for IEP teams, out-of-level testing is allowed as a nonstandard accommodation. Such out-of-level testing is not consistent with the Title I requirement that all students be held to the same performance standards. In your plan, you have stated a willingness to address all these issues and include all students in the
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assessment, reporting, and accountability system. As you make these changes in policy, you will need to submit them to us for review.
Reporting: Title I also requires that assessments provide individual student interpretive and descriptive reports that let parents know how well their students are meeting the performance standards set by the State and that all participating LEAs produce individual school performance profiles for all their participating schools.
Alabama provides individual reports of student achievement on the SAT-9. Since the State does not have cut scores for performance standards, individual student reports are now based on raw scores, national percentile ranks, and national normal curve equivalent (NCE) scores, which do not allow for an assessment of student performance relative to the State performance standards.
Reporting of Disaggregrated Data: Title I requires that assessment results be disaggregated within each State, local educational agency, and school. The statute specifically requires the reporting of results by gender, major racial and ethnic groups, English proficiency status, and migrant status. It also requires that students with disabilities be compared to non-disabled students, and economically disadvantaged students be compared to students who are not economically disadvantaged.
Alabama does not meet this requirement. Your system does not report the performance of economically disadvantaged students versus the performance of non-economically disadvantaged students, or disaggregrated scores by race/ethnicity and LEP status at the State, LEA, or school levels. Moreover, the results of the alternate assessment are not reported. Furthermore, your school profiles do not show how groups of students are performing against performance standards aligned with content standards, as required by the statute. Also you have not provided information on how these Title I performance reports are disseminated and communicated to all stakeholders.
In summary, to meet the Title I assessment and accountability requirements, Alabama must provide:
- Evidence that the State has performance standards with cut scores for all components of the assessment system and the process used to determine that these performance standards are aligned with content standards.
- Evidence showing how the State will include multiple measures in the assessment system and how these measures will affect the validity, reliability, or fairness of those assessments.
- Evidence describing how the State's final assessment system will assess higher-order thinking skills.
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- Assessment participation rates for each grade assessed, each subject (reading and math), and, for SWD and LEP populations, the total enrollment, number assessed, and number exempted. Further, the number assessed should be broken down by the type of assessment accommodation (regular, standard accommodations, non-standard accommodations, and alternate) for all components of the State assessment system that will be included in the accountability system.
- A comprehensive policy developed and approved by the State Board of Education on assessment guidelines and accommodations for LEP students. This policy should state that the State will no longer exempt LEP students from the State testing program for up to two school years. The State must also provide clear guidance to LEAs and schools related to the use of language proficiency tests in decisions on accommodations for assessments. Finally, we will need to receive the State's plan for implementing the new LEP inclusion policies and for monitoring LEA compliance with the new inclusion policies when they are approved.
- Evidence on how Alabama will incorporate data for SWD and LEP students into the State's assessment and accountability systems.
- Evidence on the completion, implementation, and reporting for the alternate assessment system.
- Clarification on how Alabama uses out-of-level testing as a nonstandard accommodation. If out-of-level testing is allowed, be aware that students who take the tests must be held to the standards that are appropriate for their age-level peers.
- A description of the State's approach for improving alignment; evidence of that alignment; and information on the cognitive complexity of all the Alabama assessments and their alignment with the State's content and performance standards.
- Evidence to show how Alabama will disaggregate its performance data by economically disadvantaged students versus non-economically disadvantaged, and report disaggregrated data by race/ethnicity and LEP status at the State, LEA, and school levels.
- Evidence on how the State will produce and disseminate individual student reports, as well as State, LEA, and school profiles and that those profiles will report the State's student performance standards.
Because of the above issues, Alabama must enter into a compliance agreement with the Department of Education in order to remain eligible to receive Title I funds. A compliance agreement is a statutory remedy authorized by section 457 of the General Education Provisions Act for situations in which a State or local educational agency cannot meet statutory requirements within the timeframe specified by law. Its purpose is to bring a grantee into full compliance with applicable requirements as soon as feasible, but within three years. The
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Department and the State will need to agree on the components of the compliance agreement including a detailed plan and specific timeline for how Alabama will accomplish the steps necessary to bring the State into compliance. In addition, before entering into a compliance agreement the State must be provided a hearing at which to demonstrate that full compliance is not feasible until a future date, and the Department must publish findings of noncompliance and the substance of the compliance agreement in the Federal Register.
We are prepared to begin immediately to work with you to discuss the issues raised in this letter and to develop the details of the compliance agreement. We appreciate your willingness to look at the parts of your assessment system that you have not used for accountability purposes, and we appreciate the positive action that you have already taken in starting to plan your State's new standards-based assessment system that will be aligned with your State standards.
I would like to meet with you within the next 30 days to discuss the development of the compliance agreement. If you would like to talk further about this, please do not hesitate to call me.
Thomas M. Corwin
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary