August 9, 2007
The Honorable Douglas Christensen
Nebraska Department of Education
301 Centennial Hall, South, 6th Floor
P.O. Box 94987
Lincoln, NE 68509-4987
Dear Commissioner Christensen:
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).
The Department supports Nebraska's right to use local assessments. It is vital, however, that the State ensures that each district's standards and assessment system fully complies with the ESEA requirements so that Nebraska's students are being appropriately and fairly assessed annually on the knowledge and skills they have gained. To that end, I am writing to follow up on my letter to you on June 29, 2007, and to provide feedback from the most recent peer review on July 18, 2007. The results of this review indicate that, based on the evidence received, Nebraska has not yet demonstrated that its locally based system of standards and assessments fully meets the statutory and regulatory requirements of Section 1111(b)(1) and (3) of the ESEA.
As you know, you received a letter from the Department on September 15, 2006, that required Nebraska to complete a review of each district's full standards and assessment system by the end of the 2006-07 school year. The evidence that Nebraska has submitted to date indicates that these reviews did not cover the full assessment system in each district. Specifically, the State submitted evidence for only one content standard in grades 4, 8 and 11 in reading and no evidence for mathematics. Additionally, the State did not demonstrate that review of its districts' assessment processes evaluated their compliance with all ESEA requirements, as reflected in the Department's peer review guidance, including, in particular, reviewing technical quality of the local assessments (including validity and reliability), alignment of those assessments with grade-level academic content standards, and inclusion of all students in the grades assessed.
An additional issue is with the alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards. Based on our conversation on August 7, 2007, no district uses a locally developed alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Instead, districts rely on the State-developed alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards. Therefore, Nebraska must submit evidence that the State-developed alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards meets the ESEA requirements, that the alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards was fully administered in all districts in 2006-07, and that all students with the most significant cognitive disabilities were validly included in each district's assessment system.
Following from our August 7 conversation, because the latest peer review did not resolve all outstanding issues, please let me know in writing by August 15, 2007 whether Nebraska completed on-site peer reviews of the local standards and assessment process for all districts in the State for both reading and mathematics, and evidence that those reviews encompassed all statutory and regulatory requirements as reflected in the Department's peer review guidance, including a complete review of the full range of content standards, evidence of the technical quality and alignment of the assessments, and data on the inclusion of all students. If so, Nebraska must submit evidence of the results of those reviews, as listed in the enclosure to this letter, by August 31, 2007, so that it may be peer reviewed during the Department's next scheduled review from September 17-21. We will assign an approval status to Nebraska's standards and assessment system after that peer review. Because the system is not yet approved, the condition on Nebraska's fiscal year 2007 Title I, Part A grant award will continue.
If Nebraska did not complete on-site peer reviews of all districts' local standards and assessment processes by the end of the 2006-07 school year, or if Nebraska cannot submit evidence by August 31, 2007 that the on-site peer reviews in every district covered all content standards in grades 3 through 8 and high school in both reading and mathematics, and included all statutory and regulatory requirements reflected in the Department's peer review guidance, the Department will take appropriate enforcement actions as outlined in the Department's May 10, 2007, fact sheet, including the possibility of a Compliance Agreement under Section 457 of the General Education Provisions Act. Additionally, the Department will initiate an intent to withhold 25 percent of Nebraska's fiscal year 2007 Title I, Part A administrative funds. For your convenience, I am enclosing a copy of that fact sheet, which is also available on the Department's website http://www.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/statesystems.html).
I appreciate the steps Nebraska has taken toward meeting the requirements of the ESEA, and I know you are anxious to receive full approval of your standards and assessment system. We are committed to helping you get there and remain available to provide technical assistance. As you move forward in meeting the remaining requirements of the ESEA, please let us know what additional assistance we can provide. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact Zollie Stevenson, Jr. (Zollie.Stevenson@ed.gov) or Martha Snyder (Martha.Snyder@ed.gov) of my staff.
Kerri L. Briggs, Ph.D.
cc: Governor Dave Heineman
SUMMARY OF ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE THAT NEBRASKA MUST SUBMIT TO MEET ESEA REQUIREMENTS FOR THE NEBRASKA ASSESSMENT SYSTEM
3.0 - FULL ASSESSMENT SYSTEM
- Document fully Nebraska's process of reviewing the locally based standards and assessment system for each of its local educational agencies (LEAs):
- Evidence that Nebraska's peer review instrument and process is aligned with the ESEA statutory and regulatory requirements as presented in the Department's April 2004 standards and assessment peer review guidance.
- A narrative summary of findings from Nebraska's peer review process for all LEAs (and in-depth review of findings for a random sample of LEAs) that addresses the depth and breadth of the ESEA standards and assessment requirements for all of the general assessments and alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards specific to the LEA that are used for the ESEA accountability decisions in grades 3-8 and high school in reading/language arts and mathematics.
- Evidence that the State-developed alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards and any locally developed alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards meet the ESEA standards and assessment requirements.
- Evidence pertaining to the implementation of sanctions, corrective actions, and any technical assistance provided for each of the LEAs that did not meet all of the ESEA assessment requirements or had low assessment system ratings based on Nebraska's peer review process.
- Documentation that all students are being included in the assessment system at grades 3-8 and high school by all the required assessment reporting categories and, in particular, that all students with disabilities are being included by comparing enrollment data to the assessment administered (general or alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards) in reading/language arts and mathematics.