November 21, 2013
Deborah Delisle, Assistant Secretary
Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202
Dear Assistant Secretary Delisle:
California is excited to embark on its new statewide assessment system aligned to college- and career-ready standards as outlined in recently established landmark legislation (AB 484, Bonilla, Chapter 489, Statutes of 2013). The foundation of the new statewide assessment system is the Smarter Balanced assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in reading/language arts and mathematics. With the goal of improving teaching and learning and implementation of the CCSS, the legislation calls for all students (exclusive of those students who participate in the statewide assessment system via the approved alternate assessment, the California Alternate Performance Assessment) to participate in the Smarter Balanced field test. We will require a waiver of the current assessment provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to allow us to properly field test the new system without creating an unduly burdensome double testing situation in grades three through eight. (Please note that California will also field test the Smarter Balanced assessments in grade eleven but, given our federal accountability measure in high school is administered in grade ten, there is not a double testing burden for those schools.) This letter is our request for such a waiver under Section 9401 of the ESEA.
California’s Field Test Plan:
- Ensures that the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is in no way negatively impacted
- Meets the needs of our schools and districts to gain exposure to the Smarter Balanced tests in both reading/language arts and mathematics
- Satisfies the federally defined purpose of the field test to ”help the test developers evaluate whether the tests, individual items, and the technology platform work as intended before the first operational administration”
- Meets the federally required 95 percent participation rate for the state
In the 2013–14 school year, California will be field testing the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium reading/language arts and mathematics assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards. This move is in the best interest of our students, teachers, and schools as we transition to a system of assessments that will provide us more and better information about how we can continue to increase the quality of education provided to all our students and help boost student achievement. California consulted with its Technical Advisory Group (see Enclosure 1, list of advisors) regarding the California field test plan. The experts did not have concerns with the technical adequacy of the plan. In addition, the experts found great value in the ability to test the infrastructure, both from a technology standpoint as well as a resource standpoint, prior to the operational administration of Smarter Balanced in 2014–15.
Accordingly, California is requesting a waiver under Section 9401 of ESEA of the requirements in Title I, Part A of the ESEA, as amended, and their associated regulatory provisions, listed below. This waiver will allow us to improve how our State, districts, or schools serve students under Title I of ESEA as it will be the first step in the implementation of an improved, more accurate aligned assessment system.
Per the Secretary’s June 18, 2013, announcement, we are writing on behalf of California to request the double-testing flexibility by requesting a one-year waiver of the requirements listed below both on the specific criteria of that announcement as well as under the more general authority of the Secretary under Section 9401.
- ESEA sections 1111(b)(1)(B) and 1111(b)(3)(C)(i), which require a State Educational Agency (SEA) to apply the same academic achievement standards, and to use the same academic assessments, for all public school children in the State. California requests these waivers so that any individual student in grade three through eight within California will be permitted to take only the Smarter Balanced field test with 95 percent of students given both reading/language arts and mathematics items and the remaining 5 percent given either reading/language arts or mathematics. A waiver of this requirement will allow California to field test new assessment items in a large number and variety of schools to ensure validity and fairness, without overloading students and taking too much time away from academic instruction. Such a field test is essential in developing new assessments as it allows both the State and the test developer to ensure that the assessment items represent an accurate measurement of student achievement.
- ESEA Section 1111(b)(3)(C)(xii), which requires the provision of individual student interpretive, descriptive, and diagnostic reports that include information regarding achievement on State assessments to parents, teachers, and principals as soon as is practically possible after an assessment is given. California requests this waiver to permit California and its local educational agencies (LEAs) to refrain from producing or providing these reports for a student’s performance on a field test for students in grades three through eight. This waiver is needed because while the field test is essential to the development of new, valid assessments, the scores and outcomes in the first year only assess the quality of testing items and do not represent a fair or valid measurement of student achievement or growth. Though this means we will have a small “gap” in our multi-year assessment data, we have confidence that this will be a small price to pay in exchange for the new and more valuable data we will be able to gather based on the new assessments, which will ultimately do much more to improve the quality of education and help us boost achievement.
- ESEA sections 1111(h)(1)(C)(ii) and 1111(h)(2)(B), which require an SEA and an LEA, respectively, to report on performance against annual measurable objectives (AMOs). California requests these waivers to permit California and its LEAs to refrain from reporting performance against AMOs for the subject(s) being field tested in all LEAs (exclusive of high schools and high school districts). Since all LEAs will participate in the field test of the new assessments aligned to the CCSS and the current statewide assessment for reading/language arts and mathematics will not be administered, there will be no reporting on performance against AMOs based on the statewide assessment (exclusive of high schools and high school districts that use the California High School Exit Examination [CAHSEE] as their performance measure). As above, we note that field test data is not valid for the purposes of assessing progress, and any reports generated from that data would not be a fair or valid way to judge school or teacher quality.
- ESEA sections 1116(a)(1)(A) and 1116(c)(1)(A), which require an LEA and an SEA, respectively, to use the State’s academic assessments and other academic indicators to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) determinations for schools and LEAs. California requests this waiver to permit an LEA (exclusive of high school districts) within California that has one or more schools participating in the field test to refrain from making AYP determinations for each of those schools and to permit California to refrain from making AYP determinations for a single-school LEA participating in the field test. Since all schools and LEAs in California will participate in the field test, the previous AYP determination based on assessments administered in the previous school year will be used for an additional year, and schools and districts (exclusive of high schools and high school districts) will be held accountable accordingly. As above, we note that while this will create a temporary gap in data, the ultimate result will be a more accurate, more responsive assessment that helps us better evaluate and respond to the needs of our students.
California hereby assures that, if it is granted the requested waivers:
- California and its LEAs will ensure that all students in the tested grades will participate in the field test with 95 percent taking both reading/language arts and mathematics items and 5 percent taking reading/language arts or mathematics. Exclusive of high schools, the current statewide assessment will not be administered.
- Since all California LEAs and all schools with tested grades will participate in the field testing, there will be no new AYP determinations based on the 2013–14 school year, but the previous AYP determinations will be used for an additional year, and schools and LEAs will be held accountable accordingly. This is exclusive of high schools and high school districts that will continue to administer the CAHSEE and will continue to have new AYP determinations.
- Since all California LEAs and schools with tested grades will participate in the field test, there will be no new reporting of the performance against AMOs based on the state assessment. (This is exclusive of high schools and high school districts that will continue to have new AYP determinations.) There will be new reporting on participation rates in the field testing for reading/language arts and mathematics for students in all schools and LEAs exclusive of high schools and high school districts.
- With the exception of the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) for students with disabilities (as required in their Individualized Education Program), all students in California LEAs and schools in the tested grades will participate in the field test. Therefore, there will be no reporting obligations for California and its LEAs with respect to reporting the achievement of students who take the current state assessments other than the students taking the CAPA or the CAHSEE.
- California has properly notified all LEAs and schools that they will participate in the field test.
- California will ensure that parents of students in each school participating in the field test will be notified of the school’s participation, including by ensuring that the notification to parents includes a discussion of the implications of the school’s participation in the field test and that the parents’ child will participate in the field test.
- In 2014–15, California will administer the new reading/language arts and mathematics assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards, as well as State science assessments, to all students in the grades required to be tested in accordance with the ESEA.
- California will resume making AYP determinations for all schools and all single-school LEAs based on assessments administered in the 2014–15 school year.
Attached with this waiver request is a list of all schools, including single-school LEAs, within California that will participate in the field test of the new assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards as well as an indication of which of those schools and single-school LEAs will not receive AYP determinations in light of their participation in the field test.
California provided all LEAs in the State with notice and opportunity to comment on the proposed waiver. The opportunity to comment is ongoing and will continue through December 2, 2013. California will provide the comments received from the public comment period upon the close of the public comment period. California provided such notice by sending an e-mail to each LEA on November 21, 2013, (see Enclosure 2, copy of public notice). California also provided notice and information regarding this waiver request to the public in the manner in which California customarily provides such notice and information to the public by publishing a notice of the waiver request on its Public Notice Web page at http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/pn/pn/.
If you have any questions regarding this request, please contact Deborah V.H. Sigman, Deputy Superintendent, District, School and Innovation Branch, by phone at 916-319-0812 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your consideration.