Key Policy Letters from the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
June 24, 2011
Archived Information

June 24, 2011

Dear Chief State School Officer:

Educators rely on accurate, reliable, and timely information to improve instruction and help all students to reach and maintain high levels of achievement.  Indeed, the availability of valid, reliable, and timely data on student performance is essential for meaningful accountability and implementation of effective education reforms.

For these reasons, I am writing to urge you to do everything you can to ensure the integrity of the data used to measure student achievement and ensure meaningful educational accountability in your State.  As I’m sure you know, even the hint of testing irregularities and misconduct in the test administration process could call into question school reform efforts and undermine the State accountability systems that you have painstakingly built over the past decade.

In addition, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires that States establish and maintain an assessment system that is valid, reliable, and consistent with professional and technical standards (Section 1111(b)(3)(C)(iii)).  The successful implementation of Title I and other key programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education (Department) relies heavily on using data that are valid, reliable, and consistent with professional and technical standards.  Test security and data quality are essential elements of an assessment system.  The Department and each State and locality have a role to play in ensuring the integrity of the test data. 

Under Title I, the Department is required by law to review and approve each State’s assessment system, and accordingly examines evidence compiled and submitted by each State regarding its process for monitoring and improving the technical quality of its system.  During the review of State assessment systems, the Department specifically examines evidence of procedures and policies for test security and data quality, including training and monitoring of staff, to ensure the security of the assessments.  Ensuring effective implementation of security and data-quality procedures also is an important part of our Title I monitoring visits, as well as our monitoring of other Federal education programs in which data play a significant role.

State and local officials share responsibility for defending against security breaches and threats to data quality.  States have a long history in stewardship of academic assessments, and most States have made great efforts to ensure that their assessments and other data collection instruments are properly administered and that data security requirements are clearly specified and followed.  But with the nation’s interest in improving education and our shared concern in protecting the integrity of our profession, as well as our investments and the public trust, ensuring the security of State assessment systems is a national interest as well.

Therefore, I urge you to make assessment security a high priority by reviewing and, if necessary, strengthening your efforts to protect assessment and accountability data, ensure the quality of those data, and enforce test security.  Among the steps that you can take are:

  • Conducting a risk analysis of district- and school-level capacity to implement test security and data-quality procedures.
  • Ensuring that assessment development contracts include support for activities related to monitoring test security, including forensic analyses.
  • Conducting unannounced, on-site visits during test administration to review compliance with professional standards on test security.
  • Seeking support to enact strict and meaningful sanctions against individuals who transgress the law or compromise professional standards of conduct.

As you may know, a State may use Section 6111 funds to ensure the continued validity and reliability of its assessment system, and the Student Achievement and School Accountability (SASA) staff at the Department is ready and willing to help you in such efforts.  Please do not hesitate to have your staff contact Carlos Martinez of SASA at 202-260-0826 or

Additionally, if you find irregularities or other problems with the integrity of data used for Federal education programs, please contact Carlos Martinez.  In cases involving fraud, potential criminal behavior, or significant irregularities, you should report this to the Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) Hotline at or 1-800-MISUSED.  There are more details about contacting the OIG Hotline at the following Web address:

I appreciate your efforts in ensuring the integrity of assessment and accountability data and look forward to your continued cooperation in supporting the very best in academic assessment and ethical conduct.


Arne Duncan

Last Modified: 02/16/2017