Guidance on Standards, Assessments, and Accountability
Archived Information


Education leaders and the general public agree that there must be challenging content and student performance standards for every child. All children should receive instruction both in rich and challenging curricula and the basic skills and benefit from effective assessments that probe their ability to think and solve problems. Over recent years, there has been a growing and widely shared understanding that education cannot be reformed piecemeal. Instead, all significant parts of the education system—teacher education and professional development, instructional materials and strategies, evaluation—must be made to work together to support high academic achievement for every child.

Over the past decade, States and communities across the country, supported by this shared understanding, have embarked on far-reaching systemic efforts to reform their schools. Uniting their efforts has been an emphasis on high academic standards—describing what all children should know and be able to do—and high-quality assessments geared to those standards, as well as a shared vision of reform. These State and local reforms have been broadly supported by the business community, academic researchers, teachers and parents, and have been bolstered by the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. The reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is yet another support for State and local reform efforts. In fact, the explicit purpose of the ESEA is to support the broad-based reforms occurring in States and localities and to extend high educational expectations to students served by Title I and other ESEA programs. Operationally, this means--

  • challenging content and student performance standards—the content, skills, and processes to be taught and the performance expected from students—will become a feature of all schools including the neediest schools and will be expected to be achieved by all students;
  • rather than a separate Title I system of standards and assessments, the standards and assessments employed for Title I will be the same as those developed by the State and local districts for all children;
  • local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools receiving Title I funds will be held accountable for ensuring that all children meet the State’s challenging content and student performance standards; and
  • it will be easier for ESEA programs to work together with each other and with the broader education program within States and communities to improve teaching and learning for all children.

This chapter provides guidance to States, districts, and schools on Title I’s new provisions on standards and assessments, adequate yearly progress, and accountability. It also discusses the transition period during which a State may use transitional assessments while it moves toward its final system of assessments. Whether a State submits a consolidated plan or a separate Title I plan, these provisions apply. However, if a State has an approved plan under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act , the consolidated State plan developed under ESEA must be coordinated with that plan. Goals 2000 is not a program, but a vehicle that States may use to assist them in the development of their State standards and assessments. As individual State standards and assessments system are developed under Goals 2000 or other State reform plans, they become the standards and assessments for ESEA. If a State has developed standards, assessments and accountability criteria to measure the performance of all children, these same standards, assessments, and accountability criteria must be used for participating Title I students, schools and LEAs.

States are at different stages of progress in the development and implementation of standards and assessments and will likely use different methods to develop and communicate their standards and design and validate appropriate assessments. This guidance sets general principles intended to be interpreted in the context of each State rather than specifying detailed procedures to be followed. Moreover, since there are several approaches that may be taken to develop such systems, flexibility and collaboration between States and LEAs are encouraged. States also differ in the balance between State control and local control. In recognition of these differences, Goals 2000 and Title I requires that participating States develop or adopt challenging content and performance standards with aligned assessments, but it does not require that there be a single set of content or performance standards and assessments that are applied uniformly to every LEA within the State. A State may choose to develop or adopt model standards or criteria against which locally developed standards and assessments would be measured and approved.

These general concepts form the foundation for the implementation of Title I—and of the entire ESEA—and support State-developed, system-wide reform of teaching and learning geared to challenging standards.

The guidance in this document applies to standards and assessment provisions under Part A of Title I. It does not impose requirements beyond those in the ESEA and other applicable federal statutes and regulations. While State educational agencies may wish to consider the guidance in this document in developing their own guidelines, they are free to develop alternative approaches that are consistent with applicable federal statutes and regulations. In other words, this document contains acceptable but not exclusive guidance. Compliance with the guidance in this document will be deemed by department officials, including the Inspector General, as compliance with the applicable federal statutes and regulations.

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Last Modified: 04/02/2009