June 17, 2008 – Decision Letter on Request to Amend Utah Accountability Plan

June 17, 2008

The Honorable Patti Harrington
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Utah State Office of Education
PO Box 144200
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-4200

Dear Superintendent Harrington:

I am writing in response to Utah’s request to amend its State accountability plan under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Following our discussions with your staff, the approved changes are now included in an amended state accountability plan that Utah submitted to the Department on June 17, 2008. I am pleased to fully approve Utah’s amended plan, which we will post on the Department’s website. A summary of the amendments submitted for the 2007-08 school year is enclosed with this letter. As you know, any further requests to amend Utah’s accountability plan must be submitted to the Department for review and approval as required by section 1111(f)(2) of Title I of the ESEA.

Please also be aware that approval of Utah’s accountability plan for Title I, including the amendments approved herein, does not indicate that the plan complies with Federal civil rights requirements, including 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, and requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

I am confident that Utah will continue to advance its efforts to hold schools and school districts accountable for the achievement of all students. If you need any additional assistance to implement the standards, assessment, and accountability provisions of NCLB, please do not hesitate to contact Jessica Morffi (Jessica.Morffi@ed.gov) or David Harmon (David.Harmon@ed.gov) of my staff.


Kerri L. Briggs, Ph.D.


cc: Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr.
Judy Park

Amendments to Utah’s Accountability Plan

The following is a summary of the state’s amendment requests. Please refer to the Department’s website (www.ed.govhttps://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/stateplans03/index.html) for Utah’s complete Accountability Plan.

Acceptable amendments

The following amendments are aligned with the statute and regulations:

Progress calculation (Element 5.1)

Revision: Utah will apply a “Safe Harbor Same Student Calculation” (longitudinal safe harbor) for subgroups that do not meet the status annual measurable objective (AMO) and do not meet the standard safe harbor requirement. Utah will compare the performance of students in the student group enrolled for a full academic year (FAY) that did not meet either the status or safe harbor targets with the performance of these same students in the prior year (all students with a test score regardless of FAY) to determine if there was a 10 percent reduction in the percentage of these matched students scoring non-proficient. This approval is conditioned on Utah’s compliance with the following three requirements:

  1. Utah will not apply a confidence interval;
  2. K-3 schools will not be included in the calculations; and
  3. Any district, school, or subgroup must have a 95 percent match rate in order to include the longitudinal safe harbor calculation.

In order to evaluate the impact of the longitudinal safe harbor on AYP determinations, the Department is granting approval of this amendment for the 2007-08 school year only. Continuation of approval of this amendment is contingent upon the state’s submitting impact data to the Department for review.

Inclusion of students with limited English proficiency (LEP) (Element 5.4)

Revision: Utah clarified the definition of LEP and exit criteria from the LEP subgroup. Students exit LEP status once they attain English language proficiency (ELP) as determined by the state’s ELP exam and are proficient on the state’s English/language arts assessment.

Please note that, under the Notice of Proposed Interpretations published by the Office of English Language Acquisition in the Federal Register on May 2, 2008 (www.ed.govhttps://www2.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/other/2008-2/050208d.html), Utah would be required to use the same criteria for exiting LEP that it uses to calculate the annual measurable achievement objective regarding the number of students who attain English proficiency (AMAO 2). Utah currently calculates AMAO 2 using the ELP assessment only. Accordingly, if the final version of the Proposed Interpretations remains the same as the proposed version, based on Utah’s current exit criteria, Utah would need to calculate AMAO 2 using the ELP assessment and the state assessment.

Academic assessments (Element 6.1)

Revision: Utah clarified that it administers science assessments in grades 4-8. However, at grades 9 – 12, students are allowed to select from a variety of science courses, including earth systems, biology, physics and chemistry. A student is proficient if he or she reaches Level 3 or Level 4 on the assessment.

Graduation rate (Element 7.1)

Revision: Because this is the first year in which Utah is using its new cohort graduation rate as the other academic indicator for high schools, it has only the current year of data for disaggregated student groups. In order to calculate safe harbor for subgroups where the graduation rate is below the state target of 85.7 percent, Utah will use improvement in attendance rate for 2007 and 2008 to determine if the subgroup has met the other academic indicator. This will only be used for 2008 to allow a baseline to be set for each student subgroup for graduation rate.

Revision: Beginning in 2007-08, Utah will begin to be able to disaggregate its cohort high school graduation rate. Utah uses a three-year cohort rate statewide due to the fact that approximately 49 percent of Utah high schools consist of grades 10-12.

Appeals process (Element 9.2)

Revision: Utah clarified its appeals process to include additional detail and clarification of the state’s process, including a reference to the procedures and guidelines approved by the Utah State Board of Education.

New school definition (Element 9.3)

Revision: Utah has established its process for identifying new schools and LEAs as follows:

New schools/districts are defined as a school/district that has had no prior enrollment or a school/district with significant (40 percent) change in population or staffing due to boundary changes, school closures, or changes in grade level configurations that now serves a different population such that fair comparisons cannot be made to the prior year’s performance. A new school/district will begin a new base line for purposes of calculating AYP. In subsequent years, data generated by the school/district will be used for making AYP determinations. The goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2013-2014 will be established for new schools/districts.

Unacceptable amendments

The following amendments are not aligned with the statute and regulations and are therefore not approved.

Reversing the order of offering public school choice and supplemental educational services (SES) (Element 1.6)

At this time, the Department declines to approve Utah’s proposal to switch the order in which public school choice and SES are offered to students attending schools that are identified as in need of improvement. However, the Department is inviting eligible states to apply for participation in the SES Pilot that allows school districts with schools in year 1 of school improvement the option of providing SES to students instead of or in addition to public school choice. Please see (www.ed.govhttps://www2.ed.gov/nclb/choice/help/ses/07agreements.html). Utah is welcome to apply for participation in this pilot.

Targeting choice/SES to non-proficient students (Element 1.6)

The Department cannot approve Utah’s proposal to target choice and SES only to non-proficient students in schools that are identified as in need of improvement. All students in a school identified as in need of improvement must be offered the option to transfer to another public school (section 1116(b)(1)(E) of the ESEA), and all students from low-income families in a school in its second year of improvement must be offered SES (section 1116(e) of the ESEA). Only if a district needs to prioritize because it cannot meet all demand may it target these options to the lowest achieving of these students.

Identifying schools for improvement (Elements 1.6 and 9.1)

The Department cannot approve Utah’s proposal to base school improvement designations on the same subgroup failing to make AYP in the same subject for two consecutive years. Section 1116(b)(1) of the ESEA requires a state to identify for school improvement any Title I school that fails, for two consecutive years, to make AYP as defined under section 1111(b)(2). There is flexibility in section 1111(b)(2) to permit a state to determine schools in need of improvement on the basis of not making AYP in the same subject for two consecutive years. This flexibility stems from other provisions in the statute that treat reading and mathematics independently (e.g., separate starting points and annual measurable objectives). These provisions recognize that student achievement in reading and mathematics in a state may be starting at very different points and thus the state would need to establish different trajectories to attain 100 percent proficiency. Concomitantly, it makes sense to permit a state to identify schools in need of improvement based on not making AYP for two years in the same subject. Subgroups, on the other hand, are not treated differently in the statute and thus the statute does not support similar flexibility to identify schools in need of improvement on the basis of “same subgroup” performance for two consecutive years. Moreover, this is inconsistent with the statute’s accountability provisions in section 1111(b)(2)(C), which require that each subgroup meet the State’s annual objectives in each subject each year. The intent of school identification is not to lay blame on a particular group of students, as the “same subgroup/same subject” proposal would do, but to identify the instructional and academic areas that need to be improved. A school that is identified for improvement should look to specific instructional remedies in the subject area, other indicator, or participation rate that resulted in its identification.

Growth calculation (Element 5.1)

The Department declines to approve Utah’s request to include a growth model in its AYP determinations for 2007-08. Utah previously submitted a growth model proposal to the Department that was reviewed and determined not to meet the Department’s core principles. As such, Utah was not approved to participate in the Department’s growth model pilot program. Only those states that are approved for the growth model pilot may include a growth model in their AYP determinations.

Decision Letters on State Accountability Plans