Letter to Waive Title I, Part A
TOM TORLAKSON, State Superintendent of Public Instruction
MICHAEL W. KIRST, President
November 25, 2014
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 continues its implementation of a landmark new statewide assessment system aligned to college- and career-ready standards as outlined in recently established State law (AB 484, Bonilla, Chapter 489, Statutes of 2013). The foundation of the new statewide assessment system is the Smarter Balanced assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English-language arts (ELA) and mathematics, which were field tested last spring and will become operational in 2015.
In the 2013–14 school year, California received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to field test 100 percent of eligible general education students in ELA and mathematics aligned to college- and career-ready standards developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium in lieu of the existing State assessments in grades three through eight, inclusive, and grade eleven, which resulted in California field testing more than 3.1 million students. Schools reported that the ability for students and teachers to experience computer-based testing for the first time was extremely valuable to develop their readiness for this different testing mode once the assessments are operational.
As you know, California students with significant cognitive disabilities did not participate in the 2013–14 Smarter Balanced Field Test but continued to participate in the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) with test results reported and used for accountability. California is eager to move forward with an alternate assessment that is aligned with the CCSS and alternate achievement standards in ELA and mathematics and provides an equal opportunity for students with significant cognitive disabilities to receive the same valuable opportunity as our general education students did.
In the 2014–15 school year, California will develop and implement a new computer-based alternate assessment in ELA and mathematics aligned with the CCSS with the intent of field testing all eligible students. This plan is in the best interest of our students, teachers, and schools and consistent with our successful Smarter Balanced Field Test.
Accordingly, California is requesting a waiver under Section 9401 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of the requirements in Title I, Part A, as amended, and their associated regulatory provisions, as listed below. This waiver will allow California to improve how our State, districts, and schools effectively serve students with significant cognitive disabilities and allow us to properly field test new alternate assessments without creating an unduly burdensome double testing situation in grades three through eight, inclusive, and grade eleven for this special student population.
This letter serves as our request for such a waiver under Section 9401 of the ESEA.
California’s field test plan will:
- Meet the needs of schools and districts to gain exposure to the alternate assessments in both ELA and mathematics.
- Provide a valuable experience for eligible students and teachers to experience a computer-based assessment similar to the Smarter Balanced Field Test experienced by our general education students.
- Satisfy the federally defined purpose of a 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.”
- Meet the federally required 95 percent participation rate for the State.
- Not impact the State’s administration of the CAPA science assessment in grades five, eight, and ten.
On June 18, 2013, the U.S. Secretary of Education announced that the ED will consider waiver requests for academic assessments and accountability (Section 111[b] and  of the ESEA) from states that participate in the field testing of new state assessments during the 2013–14 school year. This was important to support states during the transition to new assessments aligned with the CCSS and alternate achievement standards, specifically to avoid the “double testing” of students, while new assessments are being properly field tested and evaluated with regard to their validity, reliability, and fairness. The State Board of Education unanimously endorsed a field test plan at its July 2014 meeting to submit a Title I waiver request to prevent double testing in the 2014–15 school year for eligible students who are currently required to take the CAPA. In 2013–14, California’s students with significant cognitive disabilities were assessed with the CAPA and were not part of the 2013–14 waiver request. Given the enormous effort to administer a field test to over 3.1 million students, California did not have the capacity to also field test a new alternate assessment. After a successful 2013–14 Smarter Balanced Field Test administration for our general education student population, California is now prepared, in 2014–15, to provide a similar field test experience to 100 percent of eligible students who require an alternate assessment. California requests that all eligible students who take the alternate assessment field test be waived from taking the CAPA in ELA and mathematics, to avoid double testing these students.
- ESEA sections 1111(b)(1)(B) and 1111(b)(3)(C)(i) require a State Educational Agency (SEA) to apply the same academic achievement standards, and to use the same academic assessments, for all schools and children in the State. California requests this waiver so that any individual student with significant cognitive disabilities who is currently required, per their individualized education program or Section 504 plan, in grades three through eight, inclusive, and grade eleven to take the CAPA be permitted to take only the new alternate assessment field test with no less than 95 percent of students given both ELA and mathematics items. 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, reliability, and fairness while providing valuable experience with a computer-based assessment. Such a field test is essential for 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. Eligible students will continue to take the CAPA science test until a new science alternate assessment is developed based on California’s state-adopted Next Generation Science Standards.
- ESEA Section 1111(b)(3)(C)(xii) 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 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 with significant cognitive disabilities in grades three through eight, inclusive, and grade eleven. This waiver is needed because the results of a field test will only assess the quality of testing items and will not represent a fair or valid measurement of individual student achievement or growth. Though this will result in a small “gap” in our multi-year assessment data, California believes that this is a fair exchange for the new and more valuable data the State will be able to gather based on the new alternate assessments aligned with the CCSS and alternate achievement standards, which will ultimately do much more to improve the quality of education and help prepare all students for postsecondary opportunities.
- ESEA sections 1116(a)(1)(A) and 1116(c)(1)(A), 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 that students with significant cognitive disabilities who participate in the field test be excluded from the AYP calculations. Because fewer than one percent of California students participate in the alternate assessment, the exclusion of these students will have a limited impact to an LEA’s or school’s AYP determination.
California hereby assures that if it is granted the requested waivers:
- California and its LEAs will ensure that all eligible students with significant cognitive disabilities who are currently required, per their IEP or Section 504 plan, in the tested grades will participate in the field test with no less than 95 percent taking both ELA and mathematics items.
- California has properly notified all LEAs and schools that their eligible students must participate in the field test of the alternate assessment.
- Parents of students in each school participating in the field test of the alternate assessment will be notified of the school’s participation, including a notification to parents that 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 ELA and mathematics alternate assessments aligned with the CCSS and alternate achievement standards as a field test.
- All students with significant cognitive disabilities will continue to take the CAPA science alternate assessment.
California will provide all LEAs in the State with notice and an opportunity to comment on the proposed waiver. California will provide the comments received from the public comment period upon the close of the public comment period. California will provide such notice by sending an e-mail to each LEA no later than December 1, 2014. California will also provide 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 the CDE Public Notice Web page at http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/pn/pn/. The opportunity to comment is ongoing and will continue through December 15, 2014.
If you have any questions regarding this request, please contact Keric Ashley, Interim 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.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
California Department of Education
MICHAEL W. KIRST
California State Board of Education