September 15, 2006
The Honorable Douglas D. Christensen
Commissioner of Education
Nebraska Department of Education
301 Centennial Mall, South, 6th Floor
P.O. Box 94987
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509-4987
Dear Commissioner Christensen:
I want to follow up on your July 28, 2006 letter, and our recent conversations regarding the U.S. Department of Education's (Department) review of Nebraska's standards and assessment system. As we have discussed, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), requires each State to have implemented a system of challenging content and achievement standards and documented the technical quality, inclusion of all students and alignment of assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics for grades 3-8 and high school by the end of the 2005-06 school year. Given that Nebraska's system is comprised of local content standards and achievement standards as well as local assessments adopted by each local educational agency (LEA), the peer review under NCLB focused on how Nebraska will meet the Title I requirements for standards and assessments within a locally determined system in accordance with section 1111(b)(5).
As I indicated in my June 30, 2006 letter, based on two peer reviews and our understanding of Nebraska's local system, the status of Nebraska's standards and assessment system was Non-Approved. Because of the scope and significance of the areas in which Nebraska had not met the statutory and regulatory requirements and because the information provided by the State indicated it would not be able to rectify those areas in time to administer an approved locally developed assessment system in the 2006-07 school year, the Department indicated its intent to withhold 25 percent of the State's fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A administrative funds pursuant to section 1111(g)(2) of the ESEA.
On July 28, 2006, Nebraska requested reconsideration of the approval status of its standards and assessment system and provided evidence to show cause why the Department should not withhold funds. In particular, Nebraska submitted a revised timeline for implementing an approved assessment system and additional information. By both redesigning Nebraska's local assessment peer review process and accelerating the timeline to rigorously review each district's standards and assessment system, Nebraska will be able to determine, we believe, whether each district's assessment system meets NCLB's requirements by the end of the 2006-07 school year. Moreover, Nebraska has demonstrated it has already addressed or will be able to address the other outstanding issues listed in my June 30, 2006, letter by the end of the 2006-07 school year. Therefore, the Department is able to redesignate the status of Nebraska's system as Approval Pending. This status indicates that Nebraska's standards and assessment system administered in the 2005-06 school year had one or more fundamental components that were missing or did not meet the statutory and regulatory requirements but that the Department believes Nebraska can address the outstanding issues by the next administration of its assessment system, that is, by the end of the 2006-07 school year. Moreover, due to the fact that Nebraska has reduced the number of fundamental components that are not in compliance with NCLB, the Department will no longer withhold 25 percent of Nebraska's fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A administrative funds.
Nebraska's system has two fundamental components that warrant the designation of Approval Pending. Specifically, Nebraska must address concerns with the comparability of the English language proficiency assessment used as a proxy for the reading assessment for limited English proficient (LEP) students and complete the peer review process to determine whether each district's assessment system meets the NCLB requirements of a full assessment system. Please refer to the enclosure for a list of the evidence Nebraska must submit to meet the requirements for an approved standards and assessment system.
Nebraska has already submitted a plan and timeline for how it will complete its peer review process by the end of the 2006-07 school year. This plan has been reviewed and additional information is needed as indicated in the attachment to this letter. In addition, Nebraska has joined the Department's LEP Partnership to address concerns with its assessment of English language learners. Through this partnership, Nebraska will develop a plan, negotiated with the Department, for the implementation of LEP content assessments and accommodations for the 2006-07 administration of the reading and mathematics assessments.
Because Nebraska's standards and assessment system is Approval Pending, Nebraska is placed under Mandatory Oversight, pursuant to 34 C.F.R. §80.12. Under this status, specific conditions were placed on Nebraska's fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A grant award. Beginning in November 2006, Nebraska must provide bi-monthly reports on its progress implementing these plans. If, at any time, Nebraska does not meet the timelines set forth in its plans, the Department will initiate proceedings, pursuant to Section 1111(g)(2) of the ESEA, to withhold 15 percent of Nebraska's fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A administrative funds, which will then revert to local educational agencies in Nebraska.
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 and my offer of meeting with you in person. We remain available to assist you however necessary to ensure you administer a fully approved system. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to call me at 202-260-2777.
Henry L. Johnson
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 each of its LEA's standards and assessment systems:
- Conduct peer reviews of the standards and assessment system for each of its LEAs during the 2006-07 school year and determine which LEAs have met or not met the academic content standards, academic achievement standards, full assessment system, technical quality, alignment, inclusion and reporting requirements of NCLB.
- Provide a description of the range of sanctions Nebraska will impose on non-compliant LEAs.
- Consistent with these sanctions, for those LEAs that have met only some or none of the NCLB requirements, provide documentation regarding the action that Nebraska has taken to sanction each of those LEAs and the timeframe by which compliance issues will be resolved for each LEA.
- Provide a plan for responding to LEAs that have low ratings on their standards and assessments in order to increase the ability to accurately report performance levels.
- Provide evidence for peer review and approval documenting that the ELDA (for English language learners (ELLs)) meets the NCLB standards and assessment requirements as an on-grade level assessment aligned to challenging standards.