June 22, 2006
The Honorable Alice Seagren
Minnesota Department of Education
1500 Highway 36 West
Roseville, MN 55113
Dear Commissioner Seagren:
Thank you for your participation in the U.S. Department of Education's (Department) standards and assessment peer review process under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). I appreciate the efforts required to prepare for the peer review. As you know, with the implementation of NCLB's accountability provisions, each school, district, and State is held accountable for making adequate yearly progress (AYP) towards having all students proficient by 2013-14. An assessment system that produces valid and reliable results is fundamental to a State's accountability system.
I am writing to follow up on the letter that was sent to you on March 22, 2006. In that letter we presented the results of the peer review of the Minnesota standards and assessment system and detailed the additional evidence necessary for Minnesota to meet the statutory and regulatory requirements of Section 1111(b)(1) and (3) of the ESEA. The need for the remaining outstanding evidence, as listed in the enclosure to this letter, remains.
As you will recall, the Department laid out new approval categories in the letter to the Chief State School Officers on April 24, 2006. These categories better reflect where States collectively are in the process of meeting the statutory standards and assessment requirements and where each State individually stands. Based on these new categories, the current status of the Minnesota standards and assessment system is Approval Pending. This status indicates that Minnesota's standards and assessment system administered in the 2005-06 school year has three or more fundamental components that are missing or that do not meet the statutory and regulatory requirements, in addition to other outstanding issues that can be addressed more immediately. These deficiencies must be resolved in a timely manner so that the standards and assessment system administered next year meets all requirements. The Department believes that Minnesota can address the outstanding issues by the next administration of its assessment system, that is, by the end of the 2006-07 school year.
Minnesota's system has a number of fundamental components that warrant the designation of Approval Pending. Specifically, the Department cannot approve Minnesota's standards and assessment system due to outstanding concerns with the academic achievement standards for grades 3-8 and high school, including cut scores and descriptors; the technical quality, including the reliability and validity of all components of the State's new assessment system (the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments Series II, or MCA-II); the alignment of the MCA-II to grade level content and academic achievement standards; the technical quality, alignment and academic achievement standards of the alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards; and the inclusion of limited English proficient (LEP) students in the assessment system. Please refer to the enclosure for a detailed list of the evidence Minnesota must submit to meet the requirements for an approved standards and assessment system.
Accordingly, Minnesota is placed under Mandatory Oversight, as authorized under 34 C.F.R. §80.12. Under this status, there will be specific conditions placed on Minnesota's fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A grant award. In addition, Minnesota must provide, not later than 25 business days from receipt of this letter, a plan and detailed timeline for how it will meet the remaining requirements to come into full compliance by the end of the 2006-07 school year. Beginning in September 2006, Minnesota must also provide bi-monthly reports on its progress implementing the plan.
Due to the number of outstanding items that Minnesota needs to complete to come into compliance with NCLB, the Department intends to withhold 10 percent of the State's fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A administrative funds, totaling $109,437 pursuant to Section 1111(g)(2) of the ESEA. Minnesota has the opportunity, within 20 business days of receipt of this letter, to show cause in writing why we should not withhold these funds. If Minnesota cannot show cause, the Department will withhold 10 percent of Minnesota's fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A administrative funds, which will then revert to local educational agencies in Minnesota. Moreover, if, at any time, Minnesota does not meet the timeline set forth in its plan, the Department will initiate proceedings to withhold an additional 10 percent of the State's fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A administrative funds.
I know you are anxious to receive full approval of your standards and assessment system and we are committed to helping you get there. Toward that end, let me reiterate my earlier offer of technical assistance. We remain available to assist you however necessary to ensure you administer a fully approved standards and assessment system. We will schedule an additional peer review when you have evidence available to further evaluate your system. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact Patrick Rooney (Patrick.Rooney@ed.gov) or Valeria Ford (Valeria.Ford@ed.gov) of my staff.
Henry L. Johnson
cc: Governor Tim Pawlenty
Summary of Additional Evidence that Minnesota Must Submit to Meet ESEA Requirements for the Minnesota Assessment System
1.0 - ACADEMIC CONTENT STANDARDS
- Commissioner's formal approval of content standards for language arts, mathematics and science.
- Documentation and description of the process used to develop the content standards, and documentation to ensure that such content standards are challenging and rigorous.
- Documentation of how stakeholders were involved in developing the content standards. It is not clear that there was active participation by individuals with experience with LEP students and students with disabilities in the development of the regular standards.
- Documentation that the content standards also apply to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities
2.0 - ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT STANDARDS
- Approved academic achievement standards (including descriptors and cut scores) in reading/language arts and mathematics for grades 3-8 and 10/11.
- Approved alternate achievement standards linked to grade-level content standards.
- Approved achievement descriptors for science (due 2005-06).
- Completed alignment studies of the academic achievement standards and the alternate academic achievement standards to the content standards.
- Evidence that a diverse group of stakeholders will be involved in the development of the State's academic achievement standards and alternate academic achievement standards.
3.0 - FULL ASSESSMENT SYSTEM
- Documentation of the process used to associate levels of cognitive complexity with each benchmark and/or assessment item for the MCA-II.
- Documentation of how the TEAE aligns with the new language arts content standards, achievement standards, and MCA-II assessments.
- Validity study showing that the reading section of the TEAE is comparable to the reading MCA-II, and documentation that scores from the TEAE and MCA-II generate comparable scores.
4.0 - TECHNICAL QUALITY
- Technical quality, validity and reliability of all assessments (those based on grade level and alternate achievement standards).
- Comparability of assessments, both regular and alternate. This includes comparability of various test alternatives used at each grade level and comparability of individual tests over time.
- Plans for equating the MCA-II, such as a signed contract with the scope of work and/or detailed plans of the equating process and timelines. Results from an equating study that equates the MCA IIs to the previous forms of this assessment.
- Updated accommodation guidelines for the new Minnesota assessment system and information that the use of such accommodations results in valid scores and that those scores can be aggregated with scores from non-accommodated assessments.
- Constancy in administration, scoring, analysis, and reporting for all of the grades and content areas when such assessments are handled by multiple contractors for the 2005-06 assessment system.
- Monitoring policies regarding the use of accommodations allowed for students with disabilities and LEP students.
5.0 - ALIGNMENT
- Alignment studies on all 2005-06 assessments demonstrating that the assessments cover the standards in a comprehensive fashion and reflect the full range of content standards and a plan for how any identified gaps or weaknesses will be addressed.
- Alignment studies on the alternate assessments (for students with disabilities and those given to LEP students) demonstrating these assessments are based on the State's content standards.
- Use of alignment studies to improve the alignment between the assessments and the content and achievement standards. Minnesota must provide evidence such as plans and timelines that specify when and how the state will use that information to make critical decisions to strengthen the overall alignment.
6.0 - INCLUSION
- Policy and procedures to ensure the inclusion of all students in the MCA-II in 2006.
- Policy and procedures pertaining to the inclusion of students in alternate assessments, including how parents and individualized educational program (IEP) team members will be trained in the new alternate assessment system.
- The use of accommodations for LEP students.
- Policies ensuring test results of LEP students who take either the TEAE or use an accommodation are included in determining AYP.
- Appropriate use of accommodations for students with disabilities.
- Policies and guidelines providing guidance to IEP teams about how to determine which assessment is most appropriate for individual students with disabilities (e.g., updated guidelines for student participation in alternate assessments in light of the new information in the December 2003 regulation on the 1% cap when calculating AYP).
- Training for IEP team members regarding State guidelines for determining students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who will be assessed based on alternate achievement standards.
7.0 - REPORTING
- Detailed plans for reporting results of all 2005-06 assessments.