Date: June 21, 2013
Honorable Thomas R. Bice
State Superintendent of Education
50 North Ripley Street
Montgomery, AL 36104
Dear Superintendent Bice:
I am pleased to approve Alabama’s request for ESEA flexibility, subject to Alabama’s meeting the conditions described below. I congratulate you on submitting a request that demonstrates Alabama’s commitment to improving academic achievement and the quality of instruction for all of the State’s elementary and secondary school students.
In fall 2011, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) offered States the opportunity to request flexibility from certain requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive plans designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction. This flexibility is intended to support the groundbreaking reforms already taking place in many States and districts that we believe hold promise for improving outcomes for students. We are encouraged by the innovative thinking and strong commitment to improving achievement for all students that is evident in Alabama’s request.
Our decision to approve Alabama’s request for ESEA flexibility, subject to Alabama’s meeting the conditions discussed below, is based on our determination that the request meets the four principles articulated in the Department’s September 23, 2011, document titled ESEA Flexibility. In particular, Alabama has: (1) demonstrated that it has college- and career-ready expectations for all students; (2) developed, and has a high-quality plan to implement, a system of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support for all Title I districts and schools in the State; (3) committed to developing, adopting, piloting, and implementing teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that support student achievement; and (4) provided an assurance that it will evaluate and, based on that evaluation, revise its administrative requirements to reduce duplication and unnecessary burden on districts and schools. Our decision is also based on Alabama’s assurance that it will meet these four principles by implementing the high-quality plans and other elements as described in its request and in accordance with the required timelines. In approving Alabama’s request, we have taken into consideration the feedback we received from the panel of peer experts and Department staff who reviewed Alabama’s request, as well as Alabama’s revisions to its request in response to that feedback.
Please note that approval of Alabama’s ESEA flexibility request, subject to the conditions discussed below, does not constitute an approval of the assessments that Alabama proposes to use to fulfill the requirement under ESEA flexibility to develop and administer annual, Statewide, aligned, high-quality assessments that measure student growth. Those assessments will be reviewed in a separate peer review process.
The waivers that comprise ESEA flexibility are being granted to Alabama pursuant to my authority in section 9401 of the ESEA. A complete list of the statutory provisions being waived is set forth in the table enclosed with this letter. Consistent with section 9401(d)(1) of the ESEA, I am granting waivers of these provisions through June 30, 2014. If Alabama meets the conditions described below prior to that date, Alabama may request an extension of these waivers through the end of the 2014–2015 school year. At that time, Alabama may request an additional extension of these waivers.
In the coming days, you will receive a letter from Deborah Delisle, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, containing additional information regarding Alabama’s implementation of ESEA flexibility, as well as information regarding monitoring and reporting. Please note that the Department will closely monitor Alabama’s implementation of the plans, systems, and interventions detailed in its request in order to ensure that all students continue to receive the assistance and supports needed to improve their academic achievement.
Our decision to place conditions on the approval of Alabama’s request is based on the facts that: (1) Alabama will use the 2013–2014 school year to study and refine its new performance index, which will be an integral part of its new differentiated recognition, accountability, and support system; and (2) Alabama has not yet formally adopted a method for including student growth as a significant factor in its teacher and principal evaluation and support systems. However, we have determined that Alabama is able to fully meet the ESEA flexibility principles in the 2013–2014 school year while it continues to finalize its new performance index. In addition, in its request for ESEA flexibility, Alabama has committed to convening its Alabama Professional Evaluation Design Committee on an ongoing basis through August 2013 to develop a method of including student growth as a significant factor in teacher and principal evaluation systems.
To satisfy the conditions on the approval of its ESEA flexibility request, Alabama must submit to the Department for review and approval an amended request incorporating: (1) the final version of the new performance index, including by attaching to the amended request any technical documentation, administrative rules, and other relevant information; and (2) guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation systems that include a method for including student growth as a significant factor in those systems. If Alabama does not submit for review an amended request that includes the final version of the new index, does not receive approval of the amended request, or does not demonstrate that its final method for determining an educator’s summative evaluation rating includes student growth as a significant factor, the waivers being granted to Alabama through ESEA flexibility will expire on June 30, 2014, and Alabama and its districts will be required to immediately resume complying with all ESEA requirements.
Alabama continues to have an affirmative responsibility to ensure that it and its districts are in compliance with Federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age in their implementation of ESEA flexibility as well as their implementation of all other Federal education programs. These laws include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
A copy of Alabama’s approved request for ESEA flexibility will be posted on the Department’s Web site at: http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility/requests. Again, I congratulate you on the approval of Alabama’s request for ESEA flexibility and thank you for the work that you and your staff have done. I look forward to continuing to support you as you implement Alabama’s ESEA flexibility request and work to improve the quality of instruction and academic achievement for all students.
Enclosure for Approval letter
cc: Governor Robert Bentley
Sherrill Parris, Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning