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INFORMATIONAL LETTER NO. 26
POLICY CODE: IL
TO: Superintendents of Schools and Principals
FROM: J. Duke Albanese, Commissioner
DATE: November 15, 2002
RE: Status of Maine’s Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act
This communication is the first of what will be monthly updates on the State of Maine’s implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act. It is the intent of the Department to share our learnings as the USDOE provides guidance and clarification. My colleagues around the nation are also attempting to keep their principals and superintendents apprised of information is forthcoming from Washington. Do know that I will be meeting once again in a small group with Secretary Paige on November 18, and that Deputy Commissioner Judy Lucarelli is part of a national group that has been formed to advise the USDOE on matters relating to “adequate yearly progress.”
There are specific deadlines for different aspects of the federal requirements. Maine’s Plan for meeting these requirements is described in the Consolidated Application, which is located at the Department’s web site at www.maine.gov/education The Plan was approved for funding purposes at the end of June 2002. The specifics of the Plan, including the many components to be submitted in January and in May 2003, will be approved following a Peer Review by the U.S. Department of Education. Maine will be among the next group of states to participate in a Peer Review, which will be done no sooner than January 2003. While the core premise of the Plan - that assessment of students is a local/state partnership as specified in Maine statute and in Chapter 127 - will not be specifically approved until the Peer Review, we are proceeding to implement Maine statute and rule on the assumption that this will be approved under the No Child Left Behind Act for federal purposes as well. We are optimistic about the Peer Review since Secretary Rod Paige specifically acknowledged Maine’s approach in a letter sent to Senator Susan Collins on the day that the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in Congress last December, and since federal regulations explicitly provide for student assessment to be a local/state partnership. To quote directly from the Secretary’s letter:
I applaud Maine’s efforts to develop an assessment and accountability system that holds schools accountable for the progress of all students. … [The Act] does not preclude a mixed State/local system like Maine operates. … Based on what we know about Maine’s high quality assessment system, I anticipate that Maine will not have difficulty meeting the requirements of this Act (December 2001).
The significance of Maine receiving a letter like this cannot be overstated. Many details of our Plan may change through the negotiations process that the Peer Review will entail, but we are confident that Maine’s core premise of valuing local decision-making will prevail through the negotiations.
The timing of the Peer Review and subsequent approval of Maine’s Plan should not be a concern from an historical perspective. Maine’s Plan under the 1994 reauthorization of ESEA was not fully approved until 2000. Pending federal approval, the Maine Department of Education and local schools proceeded to implement the Plan under the 1994 Act. While we do not anticipate that there will be a similarly long delay in the approval of the current Plan, we will proceed at full speed with implementation of the current Plan rather than waiting for final federal approval.
The balance of this message is organized around the five goals of the No Child Left Behind Act that were adopted by each state in order to receive funding under the Act.
Performance Goal 1: By 2013-2014, all students will reach high standards, at a minimum attaining proficiency or better in reading/language arts and mathematics. A tremendous amount of work is underway related to this goal. A summary of this work follows, including the specific timeline for the many decisions that are needed and the respective advisory group that is taking the lead on the issue.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires that the same high standards be applied to all students and that results be tracked and reported for the school as a whole and for the following subgroups: low income students (Maine’s Plan defines this as students eligible for free or reduced lunch); students identified as special education (all categories combined); students identified as Limited English Proficient (all languages combined); and students in specified racial/ethnic groups (Caucasian, African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, Asian, and Pacific Islander). Thus, for each indicator to be tracked, there are up to ten groups for each school and for the state as a whole. It is unlikely, however, that Maine will have students in the Pacific Islander subgroup.
Last January we identified 19 elementary or middle schools as Priority Schools based on two consecutive years of performance on the MEA. For some of these schools this was a continued status of the identification that had taken effect in January of 2001. This winter we will announce which of these schools have improved sufficiently to be removed from Priority School status, and which additional schools, if any, will be added to this status. We must first determine what changes to make in the definition of Priority School to meet the new requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act based on local assessment systems (which include the MEA). Because local assessment systems will not be fully implemented until the end of the 2003-2004 school year, there will also be an interim definition of Priority School to be applied to MEA results for 2001-2002 and 2002-2003. There will be opportunity for public comment before a final decision is made on the definition of Priority School.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires each state to measure student and school performance and school progress in reading and mathematics at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. In addition, as described in Goal 5 below, high school completion must be used as an additional indicator of high school performance. States must select an additional indicator of elementary and middle school performance. One possibility is the use of the MEA writing scores for grade 4 and grade 8. If performance for these indicators falls below the thresholds described below, or if the percentage of students participating in the MEA falls below 95% at any grade level, the school is identified as a “Priority School” (Maine’s term).
For each of the indicators described above, performance thresholds must be established, subject to the Peer Review process. Since Maine will be using a combination of MEA and local assessment system results, there could be different thresholds for the MEA and the local assessment system results. Whatever threshold is established, the same standard must apply to each school in the state, and to each of the required subgroups of students. Ultimately, this could involve a different threshold for the MEA and for the local assessment system for grades 4, 8, and 11 for each of three subtests: reading, mathematics, and science; and one threshold each for grade 4 writing, for grade 8 writing, and for high school completion. Each of these 21 thresholds must be applied consistently locally and statewide to the school as a whole, to each of the required subgroups described above.
In order to make judgments about students, schools, and subgroups at the local and state levels, an integrated data management system is needed so student demographic labels are consistently applied, so student information can be tracked from year to year and from school to school, and so students results can be aggregated into the performance areas and subgroups specified. NOTE: If this implementation deadline is not met, some aspects of the proposed Priority School identification timeline may need to be adjusted.
Maine law requires that school systems compare student and school performance on the local assessment system to the MEA. Maine’s Plan for implementing the No Child Left Behind Act relies on the MEA to be the common assessment to determine whether a further review of school and student performance is required. For these reasons, it is necessary to review the decisions made in the fall of 1999 regarding the cut-scores for MEA reading, mathematics, science, and writing subtests. One consideration will be a comparison of MEA and NAEP results.
Each state must determine the subgroup size below which there will not be public reporting of subgroup performance. This decision must include a statistically sound rationale. The number must be large enough to protect the privacy of students and be statistically sound, but not so large that the intent of public accountability is circumvented. This decision will be part of the Peer Review negotiation.
The negotiations involved in the Peer Review may result in a change in the timing of MEA subtests so 1) results on the required subtests are provided before the end of the school year; and 2) the assessment is administered at a point in time that is close to one of the state’s official attendance counts. This could mean that reading, mathematics, and science are administered in October, soon after the October 1 enrollment count.
High student mobility affects a school’s MEA performance. A decision is needed regarding Maine’s definition of high mobility and how these students are considered in the Priority School determination. One possibility is that high mobility would require that subgroup performance be below the threshold level for one additional year before a school is identified as a Priority School.
State and federal law requires that each enrolled student must participate in the MEA. One of the required federal indicators for Priority Schools is that at least 95% of the students enrolled in a school and in each of the specified subgroups must participate in the required assessment. Maine’s Plan specifies that the MEA is the first indicator of performance in a school. Therefore, each student must participate in the MEA at the specified grade level or the school risks falling below the federal 95% participation requirement.
This is most problematic at the high school. Many of the lowest-performing students do not have enough credits in their third year of high school to be considered to be 11th graders. Since the No Child Left Behind Act is premised on the typical four year high school education, one possibility is to require all high school students to participate in the MEA their third year of high school unless otherwise specified in a student’s IEP. More guidance on this issue will be provided prior to the administration of this fall’s 11th grade MEA.
Performance Goal 2: All limited English proficient students will become proficient in English and reach high academic standards, at a minimum attaining proficiency or better in reading/language arts and mathematics. Maine has a relatively small percentage of students who are limited English proficient. However, as with other aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act, there is a considerable increase in the accountability for the performance of these students. Under the Act, even if no school system in the state has a high enough number of students to report progress of this subgroup of students, the State must report on LEP progress statewide. In addition, a student can only be designated as limited English proficient for 3 years. Following this period, the student is assessed as an English speaker even if lack of English proficiency results in a lower performance than the staff knows to be the child’s capabilities. This policy provides incentives to offer more intensive short-term interventions for LEP students.
Performance Goal 3: By 2005-2006, all students will be taught by highly qualified teachers. We are currently researching the precise federal meaning of “highly qualified teachers.” While all teachers and education specialists with provisional or professional certification meet this requirement, it is not yet clear whether teachers with a transitional endorsement, or a conditional or targeted need certificate should be considered “highly qualified.” In other states, there has been disagreement with Washington about the importance of content knowledge and the importance of pedagogical skills. The State Board of Education in Maine is currently revising all rules related to educator credentials. The hearing for the proposed replacement for Chapter 115 will be held on November 18 at the Cross State Office Building in Augusta, and simultaneously at Presque Isle High School, Bangor Public Library, and Gorham High School, using the state’s distance learning network. Chapter 115 is a major substantive rule, which means it must be approved by the State Board and then by the Legislature before it is finally adopted.
Another aspect of this goal is that educational technicians must meet higher educational requirements. Maine’s standards for educational technician II meets the federal standards for “highly qualified,” but not all educational technicians employed using ESEA funds have been authorized at the level of educational technician II. We are researching whether continuing education can replace college credits under the No Child Left Behind Act, and whether the test referred to in federal law could include a rigorous portfolio examination administered as a state-local partnership. In the meantime, any educational technician hired after January 8, 2002, must meet the new requirements by the date of hire.
Finally, there are public reporting requirements in the federal law. That is, schools must inform parents, if requested, about the percentage of their child’s teachers that are “highly qualified.” We are currently researching whether this requirement can be met by the State posting the percentage of teachers in each certification category on the school web profiles generated by the Department. The lag time between the teacher’s start of work in a school year and the Department’s ability to post the information is likely to be problematic. Ultimately, this will be addressed by the data management system that we are currently developing.
Performance Goal 4: All students will be educated in learning environments that are safe, drug free, and conducive to learning. Maine’s Title IV-A staff members have been meeting with a group of Principals in coordination with the Maine Principals’ Association to develop the definition of “Unsafe Schools” that we must submit to the US Education Department in January 2003. This group will consider the number of serious disciplinary incidents and the percentage of students expelled for serious incidents over a three-year period. The definition that we develop is particularly important since the State is required to publish the list of schools that qualify for the label and since sanctions are imposed on schools so labeled. The definition currently under consideration is as follows. A school is identified as persistently dangerous if both of the following criteria are met:
1. Violation of the Federal Gun Free Schools Act or a violent criminal act (homicide, rape, robbery or aggravated assault) on school property 3 years in a row; and
2. 2% or more of the student body expelled for a violation of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug policy, or for a violation of the weapons or violence policy of a school 2 years out of 3.
While the major federal sanction – providing parents with the choice of another public school in the same school system – will not apply for most middle or high schools in Maine, we are well aware of the negative impact on school climate and morale if a school is designated as unsafe. For this reason, the emphasis of our State Plan for Title IV-A is on creating safe learning environments, addressing this matter using a prevention approach.
Performance Goal 5: All students will graduate from high school. One possible unintended consequence of increasing the standards for receiving a high school diploma is an increased dropout rate. The No Child Left Behind Act provides accountability for school systems and states in achieving and sustaining low dropout rates. This applies to the school as a whole and to each of the subgroups specified in federal law (see Goal 1 for the list). Like others, this goal depends on consistent and accurate data statewide. For this reason we are proposing that this not become an indicator for Priority Schools determination until the new definition takes effect in two to three years.
The Department will continue to provide additional clarification and important information regarding the No Child Left Behind Act as Washington provides us with further guidance.