December 15, 2000
Honorable Jim Nelson
Commissioner of Education
Texas Education Agency
William B. Travis Building
1701 North Congress Avenue
Austin, Texas 78701
Dear Commissioner Nelson:
I want to follow up our recent discussion about the outcome of the review of Texas' final assessment system under the Title I requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We appreciate the efforts required 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 challenging standards. Texas is to be commended for the breadth of its assessment system and the variety of reports and statistical analyses that are provided to policy makers, schools, parents, and the community.
I was pleased to note that Texas recently changed its policy to include in the assessment and accountability system all limited English proficient students who have been enrolled in U.S. schools for twelve months. This change from the previous three-year policy should substantially increase the participation of limited English proficient students, and is an important step toward meeting the Title I requirements.
As we discussed, the external peer reviewers and U.S. Department of Education staff found that, except for the features noted below, Texas' assessment system meets the requirements of Section 1111(b)(3) and 1116(a) of Title I.
- Texas must develop a plan to increase the number of students with disabilities included in the TAAS assessments at all tested grade levels. Data provided by Texas for school year 1999-2000 indicates that approximately 50% of the students with disabilities have been exempted from TAAS for grades 3-8 and 10 by their local admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committees. This rate of exclusion is excessive. Section 1111(b)(3)(G) of the Title I statute makes clear the only category of students who may be exempt from testing and the accountability system is students who have not attended schools in the local educational agency for a full academic year. It should also be noted that the role of IEP teams is to determine how a student will participate in State and district-wide assessments not whether they will participate. States with approved assessment systems include approximately 80-90% of students with disabilities in their regular assessment system with or without accommodations. The other 10-20% of students with disabilities are assessed using an alternate assessment as required by IDEA.
- Texas must explain how the results from the alternative and alternate assessments will be reported and included in the standards-based measures for school accountability for the 2000-2001 test administration. Based on Texas' Decision-making Process for the Texas Assessment Programs (grades 3-8) it appears that the alternative assessment is administered to students receiving instruction below grade level. If so, while this assessment may provide useful individual performance data, the results may not be consistent with grade-level standards. To meet Title I requirements, scores on tests must either be reported by grade appropriate performance standards or the student is counted as not tested. In addition, Texas must confirm that the results for all students, including those students taking the alternate assessment, will be publicly reported and included in measures of school progress for the 2000-2001 test administration.
Please send your plan for making these changes to Mary Jean LeTendre, Director of Title I, within 30 days of receipt of this letter. If the plan indicates that Texas will meet all the Title I requirements for the 2000-2001 test administration, Texas will be granted conditional approval of its final assessment system until the changes have been made. If any of these requirements cannot be met by the next administration of your State assessment, you may request a waiver of this timeline to stay in compliance with Title I. We will work with you and your staff to support and monitor the implementation of your plan. When the required changes have been completed, the assessment system will be approved.
It should be noted that to be eligible for Ed-Flex authority, a state must have an assessment system under Title I that is either fully approved or conditionally approved with all the required changes scheduled to be made by the 2000-2001 test administration. If a State meets all the other Ed-Flex requirements but has a conditionally approved assessment system, the Department will grant Ed-Flex authority based on an approved plan for meeting Title I assessment requirements.
Enclosed with this letter are detailed comments from the peer review team that evaluated the Texas assessment documents. I hope you will find the reviewers' comments and suggestions helpful. We look forward to working with Texas to support a high-quality assessment system. If you would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to call me.