Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
April 23, 2007
Archived Information

April 23, 2007

Dear Chief State School Officer:

As you may know, in January, I released the Administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reauthorization proposal, Building on Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act. We have learned a lot over the past five years about how best to implement this historic law from working closely with chief State school officers, as well as listening to parents, teachers, policymakers, and education stakeholders across the country. We used that knowledge to inform our reauthorization proposal and to guide our approach to implementing NCLB. This blueprint is designed to provide additional tools to our schools and educators to help America’s students read and do math at grade level by 2014.

Many chief State school officers joined me on April 7, 2005, at George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, when I announced a commonsense approach to implementing NCLB. In response, many chiefs proposed innovative ways to meet the goals of NCLB. The Department provided States with opportunities to participate in pilot programs and new grant competitions, and to take advantage of flexibility through regulations. I would like to update you on this work.

Building on Results Policy Priority 1: Strengthen efforts to close the achievement gap through high standards, accountability, and more information for parents.

The blueprint reaffirms the importance of measuring the achievement of all students and student subgroups and for every child to be performing at or above grade level by 2014. Only when we have accurate information about the performance of schools and districts from valid and reliable assessments can we identify the areas where improvements in instruction and achievement are needed. The Department, with a distinguished peer review panel of assessment and accountability experts, has reviewed every State’s standards and assessment system. All States now test their students annually in grades 3 – 8 and once in high school, but many are still working to meet specific technical requirements related to their standards and assessment systems, particularly for measuring achievement of students with disabilities and students who have limited English proficiency. The Department has provided funds for technical assistance to help fulfill these statutory requirements and will continue to provide assistance.

The blueprint also calls for performance on science assessments to be included in State accountability calculations and continues to require States to assess students and hold schools and districts accountable for their results in reading/language arts and math. We also are proposing that National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results be transparent and readily available to parents along with State assessment results.

Building on Results Policy Priority 2: Give States flexibility to better measure individual student progress, target resources to students most in need, and improve assessments for students with disabilities and limited English proficiency (LEP).

I have traveled to many States, districts, and schools in the last two years and the most common requests for flexibility have involved the use of a growth measure when determining adequate yearly progress (AYP), the assessment and the inclusion of students with disabilities and LEP students, and the need to better prioritize support or differentiate the interventions for schools in need of improvement. In response, the Department has provided flexibility through a pilot program and through regulations. We have called for the inclusion of greater flexibility, in these same areas, in our reauthorization proposal.

Growth Model Pilot: Through our Growth Model Pilot, we are exploring whether and how growth models can provide a fair and reliable method to measure student achievement and to hold schools accountable for academic achievement. Currently, five States (Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee) are approved or pending approval to use a growth model to make AYP determinations. Eight more submitted proposals for review in March, with decisions expected in May. Our reauthorization proposal would permit all States that meet the eligibility principles developed through the pilot program to incorporate growth models into their AYP definitions, as long as they have robust data systems and well-established assessments, and set annual goals based on proficiency, not on students’ backgrounds.

Assessment of Students with Disabilities: On April 4, 2007, I announced new regulations that allow States to test certain students with disabilities using an alternate assessment based on modified achievement standards that more appropriately aligns with students’ needs and yields more meaningful results for schools and parents. The Department has committed $21.1 million in grant funds to develop these new standards and assessments, and has provided guidance regarding the regulations. Our reauthorization proposal would codify these regulations, as well as the Title I regulations on alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

Including LEP Students: The Department published final regulations on September 13, 2006, that provide flexibility for how schools and districts are held accountable for certain LEP students (those who have recently arrived in the U.S. and those who have exited the LEP subgroup). In August 2006, the Department initiated an LEP Partnership that provides all interested States with additional technical assistance and tools to improve the way States assess LEP students, in terms of both their content knowledge and their attainment of English language proficiency. The blueprint calls for maintaining a strong commitment to assessment and accountability for all LEP students in the core academic content areas as a driving force for improving instruction and outcomes. In addition, the reauthorization proposal would provide flexibility and give credit to schools and districts whose LEP students are making progress in reading/language arts and English language acquisition and exiting LEP status.

Prioritized Support: We have heard the call from States and other education stakeholders for more flexibility to precisely focus State technical assistance and interventions, and direct resources to schools identified for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring. Our reauthorization plan proposal allows States this flexibility to treat schools appropriately and target funding based on schools’ records in meeting accountability targets. Capitalizing on improved State data systems, States would be able to prioritize their school improvement activities based on the specific needs of the school, provided States are fulfilling their responsibility to provide parents with timely information.

Building on Results Policy Priority 3: Prepare high school students for success by promoting rigorous and advanced coursework and providing new resources for schools serving low-income students.

I strongly believe that we need more rigorous coursework in our middle and high schools and improved instruction to better prepare students for postsecondary education and the workforce. Our budget and reauthorization proposals support high school initiatives to encourage States and local school districts to raise their standards, improve the quality of their course offerings, and provide opportunities to bring math and science professionals and their expertise into our classrooms.

Academic Competitiveness (AC) Grants and National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grants: AC and SMART Grants are encouraging students to take more challenging courses in high school and pursue college majors in high demand in the global economy, such as science, mathematics, technology, engineering, and critical foreign languages. AC Grants provide grant assistance for first- and second-year undergraduates who have completed a rigorous high school curriculum, and National SMART Grants support third- and fourth-year undergraduates majoring in math, science, or critical-need foreign languages. These two grant programs would provide a total of $4.5 billion in aid to students through the 2010-2011 academic year, including $790 million in the 2006-2007 academic year. To date, institutions have awarded only half of the total amount available this year. We are concerned that so few recent high school graduates are determined to be eligible for these awards and want your help in ensuring students and colleges are aware of these grants and that opportunities to take a rigorous course of study are available in all high schools.

Building on Results Policy Priority 4: Provide greater resources for teachers to further close the achievement gap through improved math and science instruction, intensive aid for struggling students, continuation of Reading First, and rewards for teachers in high-need schools.

Beginning last year, the Department provided grant funds to create financial incentives for teachers and principals in high-need schools who have succeeded at raising student achievement levels. We also have continued our Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative to provide professional development for teachers.

National Math Panel: In April 2006, the President signed an Executive Order establishing the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, an important part of the American Competitiveness Initiative. The National Math Panel will examine and summarize the scientific evidence related to the teaching and learning of math, and will issue policy recommendations on how to improve math achievement for all students. These recommendations will inform two proposed math programs, Math Now for Elementary School Students and Math Now for Middle School Students – programs that promote and implement proven, research-based instructional methods.

Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF): TIF promotes financial incentives for teachers and principals in high-need schools who have succeeded at raising student achievement levels. In October 2006, the Department awarded $42 million to 16 grantees, including school districts, States, and partnerships with nonprofit organizations. The funds are being used to recognize and reward good teachers in high-poverty schools. The competition was continued in November 2006 for a second round of funding; another $43 million available for awards will be announced by late spring of this year. Building on Results also incorporates this new program.

Teacher-to-Teacher (T2T) Initiative: T2T supports teachers through such activities as free on-line digital workshops, an eLearning Web site, and popular Teacher-to-Teacher workshops held in cities from coast to coast. Since 2005, almost 10,000 teachers have taken part in summer workshops. One hundred thousand teachers receive information from the T2T listserv, and there have been almost one million hits on the Department’s Web site supplying information about our digital workshops. For more information, go to: tools/initiative/index.html.

Building on Results Policy Priority 5: Offer additional tools to help local educators turn around chronically under-performing schools and empower parents with information and options.

NCLB enables teachers, parents, and community leaders to work together to turn around chronically under-performing schools, while also empowering families with new options, including the choice to attend a better-performing public school or free tutoring (supplemental educational services, or SES). In order to improve the implementation of SES, the Department is currently supporting a series of pilot programs in a number of States and school districts in addition to an outreach effort.

Choice/SES Pilots and Outreach: In one pilot project, four districts identified for improvement were permitted to serve as SES providers. In another, five States were permitted to allow districts to offer SES in Year One of Improvement. As part of these flexibility agreements, these States committed to increasing the number of eligible students participating in SES, extending enrollment periods, expanding options for parents, and providing achievement data on students in the SES pilot districts. The Choice and SES Outreach Project was initiated to help local school districts and States effectively implement the public school choice and SES provisions of NCLB.

Based on what we have learned from our pilots and outreach efforts, Building on Results calls for expanded SES and offering SES to all students from low-income families who attend a school in program improvement status from the first year forward, a year earlier than before. It also calls for a greater investment in school improvement grants, strengthening of the restructuring provisions in the law, enhanced choice through public and private school scholarships, additional staffing freedom at the most troubled schools, more charter school options, and enhanced SES, particularly for students with disabilities, LEP students, and students living in rural areas.

I want to end by expressing my appreciation for the efforts made over the past five years to implement NCLB and to serve our nation’s children. Chiefs and other leaders have worked with educators and administrators to build the systems, train the teachers, and create a new culture of accountability around the belief that all children can learn and achieve to grade-level proficiency. I am committed to continuing to implement this law in a way that recognizes results over process. Thank you for taking this journey with us. I look forward to working with Congress to reauthorize this important law.

  Margaret Spellings

cc: Governor

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Last Modified: 04/24/2007