Date: September 15, 2011
The Honorable Roger Breed
Nebraska Department of Education
301 Centennial Hall, South, 6th Floor
P.O. Box 94987
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509-4987
Dear Commissioner Breed:
I am writing in response to your August 18, 2011 letter regarding the peer review of Nebraska’s reading assessments under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended. I appreciate the efforts that were required to prepare for the peer review that occurred in February 2011. I understand your frustrations regarding the peer review process and apologize for the delay in addressing the results of that review.
As you know, under the compliance agreement Nebraska entered into with U.S. Department of Education (Department) in October 2008, Nebraska agreed that the Department’s approval of its standards and assessments system would be handled though the Department’s peer review process. Accordingly, in December 2010, the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) submitted evidence for peer review related to its reading assessments. Consistent with the peer review process described in the Department’s Standards and Assessment Peer Review Guidance (Peer Review Guidance), in February 2011 outside peer reviewers and Department staff evaluated this submission, with additional information requested by Department staff in March 2011.
Based on the peer and staff evaluations of its reading assessments, Nebraska has made significant progress toward meeting the Title I standards and assessments requirements. Specifically, Nebraska submitted sufficient evidence to satisfy all but one of the seven components reflected in the Department’s Peer Review Guidance. This reflects a major accomplishment, especially considering that it was the first peer review of Nebraska’s reading assessments. The only component that Nebraska has not yet satisfied is alignment, which is covered under Section 5 of the Peer Review Guidance. Of particular concern, the evidence submitted indicates that Nebraska’s reading assessments address only two of Nebraska’s reading content standards. I understand that the decision to limit the scope of alignment was thoughtful and included the advice of experts and educators from local districts. However, under 34 C.F.R. § 200.3(a)(1)(i), a state’s assessment system must address the depth and breadth of the content standards.
In light of the above concerns regarding Nebraska’s recent submission, Nebraska must still submit evidence that adequately addresses alignment under Section 5 of the Peer Review Guidance. To facilitate this process, my staff is available to provide technical assistance regarding different approaches Nebraska may want to consider to resolve the issues related to alignment. Additionally, please note that, to obtain full approval of its standards and assessments system, Nebraska also must submit the requisite evidence for peer review for its mathematics and science assessments.
Because Nebraska still must demonstrate compliance with all of the Title I requirements for standards and assessments in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science, Nebraska’s standards and assessment system remains designated Approval Pending and the condition on Nebraska’s Title I, Part A grant award will continue. In addition, Nebraska remains obligated to comply with the terms of its compliance agreement. However, as reflected in my July 26, 2011 letter, Nebraska has completed all required action steps pertaining to its general and alternate reading assessments. Moreover, I anticipate that Nebraska will have no difficulty in completing the remaining action steps related to mathematics and, therefore, meet the terms of the agreement. To this end, I look forward to Nebraska’s submission of its mathematics assessment for peer review this fall. Be assured that I expect the Department to carry out the mathematics peer review much more expeditiously than the reading peer review.
I appreciate the steps Nebraska has taken toward meeting the requirements of the ESEA, and I know you are eager to receive full approval of your standards and assessment system. We are committed to helping you accomplish that goal and, as noted above, remain available to provide technical assistance. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact (Carlos.Martinez@ed.gov) of my staff.
Cc: Governor Dave Heineman