October 11, 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).
I am writing to follow up on my letter of August 9, 2007, requesting that Nebraska submit additional evidence regarding the results of its on-site peer reviews of the local standards and assessment systems for all districts in the State for both reading and mathematics. The external peer review of Nebraska’s additional evidence on September 13, 2007, indicated that the State reviews of district systems did not encompass 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 in the assessments. Consequently, Nebraska’s standards and assessment system still does not meet all of the statutory and regulatory requirements of Section 1111(b)(1) and (3) of the ESEA.
Specifically, the external peer review on September 13, 2007, indicated that the State’s review of its districts did not encompass all aspects of the Department’s peer review guidance and did not include both reading and mathematics for grades 3 through 8 and high school. Additionally, the State did not demonstrate that the on-site reviews of its districts’ assessment processes evaluated their compliance with all ESEA requirements, as reflected in the Department’s peer review guidance, including, in particular, 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. Finally, Nebraska did not submit evidence that the State-developed alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities met the ESEA requirements, that the State-developed alternate was fully administered in all districts, or that all students, including students with disabilities, were validly included in each district’s assessment system. Nebraska must ensure that any deficiency in each district is corrected and that each district’s standards and assessment system fully complies with the ESEA requirements. I look forward to our meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss the next steps for Nebraska. The Department shares your goal of getting Nebraska’s standards and assessment system into full compliance as soon as possible.
Because the latest peer review did not resolve all outstanding issues, the status of Nebraska’s standards and assessment system remains Approval Pending. Under this status, the condition on Nebraska’s fiscal year 2007 Title I, Part A grant award will continue.
Due to the scope and significance of the areas in which Nebraska’s system does not meet the statutory and regulatory requirements of the ESEA, and the time we anticipate that it will take Nebraska to address the remaining concerns, Nebraska must enter into a Compliance Agreement with the Department, as authorized by Section 457 of the General Education Provisions Act. The purpose of the agreement is to enable a grantee to remain eligible to receive funding while coming into full compliance with applicable requirements as soon as feasible but within three years. The Department and Nebraska will need to agree on the components of the agreement, including a detailed plan and specific timeline for how Nebraska will accomplish the steps necessary to bring its system into compliance. For example, Nebraska may need to contract with outside experts or technical assistance providers knowledgeable in the areas of non-compliance. In addition, before entering into the agreement, the Department must hold a hearing to explore why full compliance with the Title I standards and assessment requirements is not feasible until a future date. The State, affected students and their parents, and other interested parties may participate in the hearing. The Department must publish findings of noncompliance and the substance of the agreement in the Federal Register.
The Compliance Agreement must also include a budget for each year the agreement is in place, demonstrating that Nebraska has committed sufficient resources to correct the areas of non-compliance. The budget must reflect that Nebraska will use a reasonable portion of its Title I, Part A administrative funds, in addition to State funds and funds it receives under section 6111 of the ESEA, toward improving its assessment system. The Title I, Part A State administrative funds that are used must supplement, not supplant, the State funds dedicated for this purpose.
Finally, as announced in my to all Chief State School Officers on September 15, 2007, the Department has developed a Web-based tracking tool that will allow States to track their progress toward having a fully approved assessment system. The Department is piloting this project with any State entering into a Compliance Agreement with the Department, to help the State track the steps necessary for the completion of the signed agreement. Because the tool is password-protected to ensure privacy, my staff will follow up with you regarding the details of Nebraska’s involvement in this pilot project.
I appreciate the steps Nebraska has taken toward meeting the requirements of the ESEA. Before the official process for the Compliance Agreement begins, I look forward to our meeting in Washington, DC to discuss the next steps for Nebraska as you continue to work towards full approval of your standards and assessment system. We are committed to helping you achieve full compliance and remain available to provide technical assistance to help you progress toward that goal. 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
- Evidence that the peer review of each LEA’s assessment system reviewed all of the LEA-specific general assessments and alternate assessments used in NCLB accountability decisions in grades 3-8 and high school for reading/language arts and mathematics, as required by federal statute and regulations.
- Revision of the quality criteria and the assessment tool used in the Nebraska peer review process to strengthen the review criteria for academic content standards, performance descriptors, technical quality, and alignment. The evaluation of a district’s compliance with ESEA requirements must be based on all aspects of the assessment tool for all grades and subjects – failure to meet the minimum level must lead to a finding of “non-compliance” and sanctions (Element 3.2, Standards and Assessments Peer Review Guidance, April 28, 2004).
a. How has the State ensured that all local assessments are aligned with the State’s academic content and achievement standards?
b. How has the State ensured that all local assessments are equivalent to one another in terms of content coverage, difficulty, and quality?
c. How has the State ensured that all local assessments yield comparable results for all subgroups?
d. How has the State ensured that all local assessments yield results that can be aggregated with those from other local assessments and with any statewide assessments (comparability)?
e. How has the State ensured that all local assessments provide unbiased, rational, and consistent determinations of the annual progress of schools and LEAs within the State?
- Peer review evidence that LEA academic content standards since the implementation of NCLB reflect the full range of coverage of the reading and mathematics curriculum in grades 3-8 and high school for each LEA.
- Evidence of the alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards used in each State, whether it is State- or locally developed. Evidence that the State-developed and locally developed, if applicable, alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards for students with significant cognitive disabilities meet ESEA requirements.
- Documentation that all students, including students with disabilities and English language learners are being included in the assessment system at grades 3-8 and high school in both reading/language arts and mathematics.