January 3, 2001
Honorable Wayne Sanstead
State Department of Public Instruction
600 East Boulevard Avenue
Bismark, North Dakota 58505-0440
Dear Superintendent Sanstead:
I want to follow up our recent discussions about the outcome of the review of North Dakota's final assessment system under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We appreciate the efforts of you and your staff to prepare for the final review and hope that the process provides useful feedback that will support your State's efforts to monitor student progress toward meeting challenging standards.
In general, Title I requires States to adopt State content and performance standards, and assessments of student performance that are aligned with those standards. The tests must be administered annually at the elementary, middle and high school level, and must include all students, specifically students with disabilities and with limited English proficiency. Further, the tests must be used as the primary basis for holding schools and districts accountable for progress in helping students meet State standards. The test results must be publicly reported at the State, school and district levels, and disaggregated by a number of different subcategories when statistically sound. There must also be individual scores to inform each student and his or her parents about the student's performance relative to State standards.
North Dakota submitted for peer review an assessment system consisting of a norm-referenced test (CTBS) and authentic skills assessments in English/language arts and mathematics. Given our most recent conversation, however, it is unclear if North Dakota will use this system beyond the 2000-2001 school year or will develop another standards-based system. Because no system is fully developed and documented, or assured of annual implementation, at present North Dakota does not meet the requirements of Sections 1111 and 1116 of Title I. A specific list of the Title I requirements North Dakota must address is attached. These requirements must be addressed in order for North Dakota to remain eligible to receive Title I funds.
The following general comments are based on the assessment system submitted for peer review.
Full Assessment System. Title I requires that each State have final assessments in place by the 2000-2001 school year. These assessments must be aligned to the State's content and student performance standards, and be administered annually to students in at least one grade in each of three grade spans-grades 3 through 5, grades 6 through 9, and grades 10 through 12. This requirement is intended to help ensure that the tests used to hold schools and districts accountable provide stable information on how well schools and districts are performing. Title I also requires that final assessments be aligned with content and performance standards in at least mathematics and reading/language arts.
At this time, North Dakota does not meet this requirement. North Dakota historically has used a norm-referenced test (CTBS) as a statewide assessment. While the CTBS provides useful information on how North Dakota students perform compared to a national sample, it is not fully aligned with North Dakota's content standards. Thus, using this assessment as the sole measure of student achievement does not meet the Title I assessment requirements. It should be clear, however, that North Dakota is not required to stop using this test in order to meet the Title I requirements. Rather, it must complete developing and implement annually its authentic skills assessment or develop and implement another standards-based system.
For the peer review, North Dakota indicated that the authentic skills assessments in English/language arts and mathematics would be included in the State assessment and Title I accountability systems in 2000-2001 and subsequent years. However, there is currently no State funding available for those assessments. Implementation of the authentic skills assessments in 2000-2001 is possible only because of federal funding from our Department's Office of Educational Research and Improvement provided to North Dakota through a grant to support development of the mathematics assessments, and through a one-time waiver from the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education to use unspent Title I school improvement funds. Taken together, these federal funds will enable North Dakota to administer the English/language arts assessment to students in Title I schools in the elementary grade span and to Title I students at the middle and high school level, and administer the mathematics assessment to students in all required grades.
It appears that North Dakota has not yet made the financial commitment necessary to administer the authentic skills assessments on an annual basis. It is our understanding that your office will be requesting the legislature to appropriate the necessary funds for regular test administration, either of the authentic skills assessment or another standards-based assessment, during this legislative session. This is an important step. Let me reiterate that North Dakota must address the Title I assessment requirements to remain eligible for Title I funding.
Performance Standards. Title I requires that each State submit evidence of performance standards that describe three levels of proficiency aligned to content standards in reading/language arts and mathematics at each of the three required grade spans. Currently, performance on the North Dakota authentic skills assessment is reported on the benchmark level, rather than as aggregated performance standards in reading and mathematics. We have been assured that moving from the current approach to aggregated performance standards is achievable.
To meet the requirements for student performance standards, the State must provide evidence that the performance standards have been officially adopted, are challenging and aligned with State content standards, apply to all students, and have been developed with broad-based involvement.
Inclusion. Title I requires that final assessments must provide for the participation of all students in the grades being assessed. Title I specifically requires the inclusion of limited English proficient (LEP) students 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.
Section 1111(b)(3)(G) of the Title I statute makes clear the only category of students who may be exempted from testing are students who have not attended schools in the local education agency for a full academic year. We understand that North Dakota has revised its policy, effective for the 2000-2001 school year, to comply with this requirement and that all students, including non-English proficient students, will now be assessed. Please provide documentation to support this revision. In addition, after administering its assessment system in spring 2001, North Dakota must provide complete participation data for students with disabilities and LEP students so that the State's inclusion policies may be evaluated in terms of the inclusion of students in assessments, reporting, and accountability.
Reporting. Title I 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. Assessment results are also required to be disaggregated within each State, local educational agency, and school. The Title I statute spells out the categories for reporting results, including 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.
North Dakota must provide evidence that it is developing and publicly disseminating State, district, and school reports that report the performance of students at three levels of proficiency, disaggregated by the statutory categories when statistically sound. North Dakota currently reports performance on the benchmark levels. These reports must be revised before the administration of the 2001 spring assessments and copies of the revised reports must be submitted as evidence of meeting this requirement.
Other Related Requirements. As it continues to finalize and implement a standards-based assessment system, North Dakota will need to be mindful of other related requirements of Title 1 assessments, such as the documentation of technical quality, alignment of the assessments with State standards, and incorporation of the assessments into the State's accountability system. The policies that will govern the administration of the assessment system and the reporting of results must meet the Title I requirements.
Despite the substantial efforts already undertaken, North Dakota does not yet meet the requirements of Sections 1111 and 1116 pertaining to State standards and assessments. If North Dakota intends to implement the assessment system it submitted for peer review, it must complete the necessary development and documentation of its authentic skills assessments, adopt appropriate reporting and accountability policies, and secure the policy and financial commitments to administer the assessments annually at the required grade levels.
It may be possible for North Dakota to meet the most critical of these requirements by the Spring 2001 deadline if it secures the commitment to finalize the development and administer the authentic skills assessments annually in reading/language arts and mathematics at the required grade levels and if it appropriately includes the results of these assessments in disaggregated reports and in the school and district accountability system. Under these circumstances, we would be willing to waive the deadline for other requirements that cannot be met until after this work is done, particularly those pertaining to documenting the technical quality of the assessments.
If it is not possible to secure the commitment to administer and fund the authentic skills assessments and include the results of these assessments in disaggregated reports and the accountability system by Spring 2001, we will have to consider the other courses of action available to the Department. These include requiring North Dakota to enter into a compliance agreement in order to remain eligible to receive Title I funds or initiating proceedings to withhold Title I funds from North Dakota. Similarly, if North Dakota decides to respond to the issues raised in this letter with a new strategy that will preclude administering and reporting the results of an assessment aligned to State standards this school year, then the Department will consider the same steps in order to ensure that the State meets the Title I requirements.
Within 60 days, North Dakota must submit a detailed plan and timeline describing how it will meet the Title I assessment requirements for the 2000-2001 test administration and beyond. Please submit this plan to the Director of Title I in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.
We look forward to working with North Dakota to support high quality in the assessment system. If you would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to call me.
In order to obtain full approval of the authentic skills based assessments, North Dakota must:
- Submit documentation that it has secured sufficient authority and funding to fully support the state's assessment that is aligned with their standards for subsequent years.
- Provide evidence of performance standards aligned to content standards for the standards-based components of your State assessment system.
- Provide documentation of the revised policies for students with disabilities and limited English proficient students.
- Provide complete participation data for students with disabilities and LEP students so that the State's inclusion policies, assessment, reporting, and accountability can be evaluated to confirm how these students are performing relative to state standards for the standard-based assessment when it is administer, and alternate assessment.
- Provide information on the process used to align the standards-based assessment with the content and performance standards.
- Provide technical quality information on all components of the North Dakota assessment system.
- Provide individual reports of student achievement relative to the state performance standards.
- Provide school, LEA and State reports by performance standards levels using disaggregated data by all the required categories.
- Provide evidence that LEAs are completing and disseminating school and district profiles that include statistically sound disaggregated results.
- Provide information on how the standards-based assessments will be used to determine LEA and school progress and which students will be included in this new accountability system.