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Mississippi Assessment Letter

June 30, 2006

The Honorable Hank M. Bounds
Superintendent
Mississippi Department of Education
P.O. Box 771
Jackson, Mississippi 39205-0771

Dear Superintendent Bounds:

As you know, 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), each State is required to have in place by the 2005-06 school year a statewide system of academic content and achievement standards in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science and aligned assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school.

In response to those requirements, Mississippi undertook to overhaul its existing system of standards and assessments to address fundamental weaknesses in that system, including a complete revision of the State's content standards and a redesign of the assessment system. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina intervened, and schooling in many Mississippi districts was seriously disrupted as thousands of students from the Gulf Coast relocated within and outside Mississippi. I know that the Mississippi Department of Education's (MDE) primary focus for much of 2005-06, and rightfully so, was the welfare of its displaced children and teachers and helping to return a small amount of normalcy to an abnormal situation. Understandably, completing Mississippi's standards and assessment system, important though it is, was necessarily delayed.

Section 1111(b)(3)(C)(vii) of the ESEA authorizes the Secretary to provide a State one additional year if the State demonstrates that exceptional or uncontrollable circumstances, such as a natural disaster, prevented full implementation of the State's academic assessment system by 2005-06 and the State will complete implementation within the additional one-year period. No one can dispute that Hurricane Katrina was a devastating natural disaster affecting Mississippi that diverted the MDE's time, energy, and resources to more pressing matters. Moreover, I understand that MDE will be able to administer its new standards and assessment system in 2006-07. For these reasons, Mississippi has met the statutory criteria to warrant an additional year to complete its standards and assessment system.

To ensure that Mississippi remains on track to implement its assessment system in 2006-07, please submit, within 25 business days of receipt of this letter, a plan and detailed timeline that outlines the steps Mississippi will take to complete its system. In addition, beginning in September 2006, Mississippi must provide bi-monthly reports on its progress implementing its plan.

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 a peer review when you have evidence available to evaluate your system. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to call Catherine Freeman (catherine.freeman@ed.gov) or Grace Ross (grace.ross@ed.gov).

Sincerely,

Raymond Simon

cc: Governor Haley Barbour

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Last Modified: 07/06/2006