Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
February 21, 2006
Archived Information

February 21, 2006

Dear Chief State School Officer:

Having just completed my first year as Secretary at this Department, I am taking this opportunity to reemphasize one of the law's most significant requirements as well as to provide additional information on the growth model pilot project. When we met at Mt. Vernon last year, I announced that States showing results and following the "bright line principles" of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) would be eligible for new tools to help them meet the law's goal of getting every child to grade level by 2013-14. Implementing a standards-based assessment system in reading/language arts and mathematics for each of grades three through eight and high school is one such bright line and also a fundamental step toward closing the achievement gap and ensuring that every student reaches proficiency in reading and mathematics by 2013-14. While I understand the demands on your time and the challenges of leading a State's education efforts, I remind you that, in order to remain in compliance with the law and to be eligible for additional flexibility, your State must meet the assessment requirements of NCLB and administer that system this school year.

I want to encourage you to make it your highest priority to provide a complete and robust submission describing your State's standards and assessment system. To date, about half the States have completed an initial review, with the remaining States scheduled for review either this month or in May. A majority of the States that have already gone through peer review must submit additional information or make necessary adjustments before receiving approval. If there is anything that the Department can do to assist you either in preparing your submission or responding to our concerns, please contact Assistant Secretary Henry Johnson. His office is prepared to offer and organize technical assistance to States that need help in completing this work.

In addition, some States have submitted proposals for growth-based accountability models. As States submit their growth model proposals, Department staff will conduct an initial review to determine basic eligibility, including examining how well States are implementing the "bright line principles" of the law. Only those proposals that meet the prerequisites will advance to the peer review stage. At that time, we will submit a copy of the proposal to peer reviewers who will begin their independent review. Simultaneously, we will post the submissions that advance to the peer review stage on our website at This step will help ensure the process is open and transparent to all those concerned.

After the reviewers have completed their initial review of proposal materials, we will facilitate a conference call between each State that advanced to peer review and the peer reviewers, in order to give the peer reviewers the opportunity to ask clarifying questions. Following their independent review, peer reviewers will meet in Washington, DC, to discuss each proposal and to develop recommendations regarding approval for my consideration. I have asked to receive these recommendations by May. Please note that a State's growth model proposal will not be approved if the State's assessment system does not meet the NCLB requirements. Further, the assessment system must provide achievement data that meet the statistical requirements associated with any proposed growth model. At the end of this process, the Department will post the final approved State proposals on its website.

Lastly, I am pleased to announce the peers who will be evaluating these proposals. The experts participating represent a wide range of perspectives from academia to the private sector to national, State, and local organizations. They include: Dr. Eric Hanushek, Stanford University; Dr. Chris Schatschneider, Florida State University; Dr. David Francis, University of Houston; Dr. Margaret Goertz, University of Pennsylvania; Kati Haycock, The Education Trust; William Taylor, Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights; Sharon Lewis, Council of the Great City Schools (retired); Dr. Robert Mendro, Dallas Independent School District; Dr. Jeff Nellhaus, Massachusetts Department of Education; Dr. Mitchell Chester, Ohio Department of Education; and Dr. Louis Fabrizio, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Again, thank you for all your efforts on behalf of our nation's children.

  Margaret Spellings


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Last Modified: 02/22/2006