May 15, 2001
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
P.O. Box 7841
Madison, WI 53702
Dear Mr. Dold:
It was a pleasure meeting with you, Sheila Ellefson, and Stephen Elliott on April 6. Your detailed description of the Wisconsin assessment program was interesting and informative. You and your colleagues addressed each of the requirements cited in former Assistant Secretary Michael Cohen's December letter suggesting that Wisconsin enter into a compliance agreement with the Department in order to remain eligible for Title I funds. We appreciate your willingness to modify Wisconsin's assessment policy and procedures in order to address some of the issues set forth in the December letter, and we are prepared to continue discussion of those issues.
At our meeting, you and your staff provided three proposals in response to the December letter. These responses dealt with increased inclusion of limited English proficient students, the issue of reporting results from the alternate assessment, and a redefinition of Wisconsin's standards and the relation between those standards and the assessments Wisconsin conducts under Title I. I will discuss our understanding of Wisconsin's current proposals in these three areas and the Department's initial response to those proposals.
Inclusion of limited English proficient students in assessments -- The Wisconsin proposal to "revise the state rule and provide specific guidance to appropriately increase its inclusion of students with limited English proficiency in standardized assessments" appears promising. Title I requires that limited English proficient students be included in State assessments and that the State make every effort to provide assessments "in the language and form most likely to yield accurate and reliable information on what such students know and can do, to determine such students' mastery of skills in subjects other than English." When inclusion decisions are made at the local level, we have required States to adopt uniform objective criteria to define language proficiency and to monitor the local implementation of the States' inclusion policies. Before determining whether Wisconsin's inclusion policy is in compliance with Title I, we will need to review the proposed revision of the code and the specific guidance that you will provide to districts. A State action plan and timeline might include target dates for completing the draft revision of the administrative code and submitting draft language to ED for review.
Inclusion of students with disabilities and reporting of alternate assessment results - At our meeting, you and your colleagues asserted that Wisconsin need not report results from alternate assessments because those reports are not valid. For several reasons, we do not believe this policy would satisfy Title I requirements. First, Title I requires the participation of all students in each State's assessment and accountability system. Further, the statute requires dissemination of individual reports and group reports at the school, district, and State levels for all children assessed. If roughly 20 percent of students with disabilities are not included in your assessment system (based on 1998-99 data), the public cannot judge whether Wisconsin schools are helping these students progress toward the standards that Wisconsin has identified as essential for all.
Demonstrating valid measurement for a diverse group of disabled students who cannot take the regular State assessment is, admittedly, a challenging task. But other States have met this requirement. It requires, as you realize, a thoughtful and complex design for both assessment and validation research. The current law permits the use of assessments that have not been fully validated as one of multiple measures of school and district performance, so long as the State includes in its plan "information regarding the State's efforts to validate such measures." In addition, although Wisconsin Administrative Rules require an alternate assessment for students with disabilities, your agency has not developed or adopted a uniform measure for this purpose, relying instead on local development and implementation of alternate assessments. You have the option, under the Department's assessment guidance, of continuing to rely on local assessments, but if you do so you must devise a strategy that will allow public reporting of results at the school, district, and State levels, include the results in school and district accountability, and ensure the technical quality of the assessments. Please inform us of how Wisconsin intends to deal with these concerns.
Alignment between standards and assessments -- Our discussions on April 6 addressed several issues related to the alignment between Wisconsin's standards and assessments. As a follow-up, the Department will schedule a new peer review of the Wisconsin alignment data based on Dr. Elliott's framework for using the standards as the foundation for the assessment. ED staff has arranged for an external peer review of the Elliott materials describing the alignment between the Wisconsin test and standards using the same process employed for the initial review. That is, we will rely on the Peer Guidance as the framework for evaluation, and we will employ external reviewers with experience in large-scale assessment and Title I. However, we believe that two matters related to alignment still need to be resolved.
First, in our meeting, you stated that Wisconsin desired to have its assessments judged only on the basis of their alignment with content standards in reading and mathematics and to use reading and mathematics test results for accountability. This strategy may meet Title I requirements if Wisconsin elects to revise its existing model academic standards in English language arts which the State adopted for all students under Executive Order No. 326 in 1998. The Title I statute requires assessments "in at least mathematics and reading or language arts....[that are] aligned with the State's challenging content and student performance standards and provide coherent information about student attainment of such standards." The statute further states that if a State has content and performance standards for all students, the State must use those standards and related assessments, modified if necessary, to meet the requirements in Section 1111(b). The State may, however, modify the content standards and, thus, the basis for statewide assessment. In other words, the law requires that Wisconsin must either hold Title I schools accountable for the approved English language arts standards using appropriate assessments or must redefine the model academic standards for all students as reading only. If Wisconsin chooses to revise its standards, it must submit evidence describing the process used and evidence of adoption of the new standards.
In the event that Wisconsin continues to maintain a statewide school accountability system that includes science and social studies, the State must include all Title I schools in the statewide accountability system in the same manner as all other schools. Further, Wisconsin must also include all Title I students in any assessments administered to all students, such as the current science and social studies portion of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination. In your response to me, please clarify whether you intend to change the model academic standards from English language arts to reading only and whether you intend to create a separate Title I accountability system based solely on reading and mathematics. If the answer to these questions is affirmative, please include a description of how Wisconsin will meet the requirements of Title I Section 1116 using only the reading and mathematics test results.
Our second issue is that your discussion of alignment appeared to modify the State's definition of performance standards from what this office had previously approved. In 1998, Wisconsin submitted to the Department proficiency categories (performance standards) designated as advanced, proficient, basic, and minimal in the subject areas of English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. At the April 6 meeting, however, you explained that there are now five proficiency categories: advanced, proficient, basic, minimal, and pre-requisite skills. Title I requires that when States make significant changes in their standards, assessments, or accountability system, they must submit information about those changes to the Department. In order for us to approve the modified proficiency categories, we will need evidence of the process employed to add a fifth level and evidence of adoption or approval by the State. I have enclosed the Department's guidance for approval of content and performance standards.
As we have discussed, the Department will do its best to expedite review of the additional information and the proposed changes to Wisconsin's assessment system in order to determine whether a timeline waiver would be justified. Under either a timeline waiver or a compliance agreement, Wisconsin must provide a detailed action plan with a timeline for completion of the activities needed for full implementation of the Title I requirements. As each critical activity is completed, the State must submit evidence of completion, which may take the form of operational documents such as statute or regulations, results from internal or external studies, data produced by the assessment system, test administration manuals, or score reports. When all activities have been completed and documented, an assessment system can receive full approval.
Once again, I appreciate the effort that you and your colleagues have made to provide us with additional information on Wisconsin's standards and assessment system, and to make changes in your policies and procedures in order to achieve full compliance with Title I. I hope that, through our review of the new information that you have provided (or will provide) to us, we will be able to resolve the various issues in a mutually agreeable manner. Please contact me if you need further explanation of our concerns or if I can be of any assistance.
Thomas M. Corwin
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary
cc: Patricia Guard,
Acting Director, OSEP