Minnesota Assessment Letter

November 6, 2006

The Honorable Alice Seagren
Minnesota Department of Education
1500 Highway 36 West
Roseville, Minnesota 55113

Dear Commissioner Seagren:

Thank you for submitting Minnesota’ assessment materials for an additional peer review under the standards and assessment requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).

In my letter to you on June 22, 2006, I enumerated the fundamental components as well as a number of additional technical issues that had not met the standards and assessment requirements of the ESEA after the first peer review in May 2006. Specifically, the Department could not approve Minnesota’s standards and assessment system due to fundamental concerns with the academic achievement standards for grades 3-8 and high school, including cut scores and descriptors; the technical quality, including the reliability and validity of all components of the State’s new assessment system (the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments Series II, or MCA-II); the alignment of the MCA-II to grade level content and academic achievement standards; the technical quality, alignment and academic achievement standards of the alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards; and the inclusion of limited English proficient (LEP) students in the assessment system. The peer reviewers and Department staff evaluated Minnesota’s additional submission and found, based on the evidence received, that it still does not meet all the statutory and regulatory requirements of Section 1111(b)(1) and (3) of the ESEA. Specifically, the peer review of this evidence suggests that there remain concerns regarding the academic achievement standards; technical quality, including the reliability and validity of all components of the MCA-II; the technical quality, alignment, and academic achievement standards of the alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards; and the inclusion of LEP students in the assessment system. However, Minnesota’s new evidence was sufficient to address concerns with the alignment of the MCA-II to grade-level content.

Because the peer review of the alignment data for the MCA-II and the comparability of the Test of Emerging Academic English (TEAE) did not resolve all outstanding issues, the status of Minnesota’s standards and assessment system remains Approval Pending. However, due to the fact that the State was able to show cause that it had satisfactorily addressed the alignment of the MCA-II, as well as the fact that the MCA-II is a new assessment system and evidence of technical quality could not reasonably be submitted for peer review before fall 2006, and Minnesota has joined the LEP Partnership to address concerns with the inclusion of LEP students, the Department will not withhold Title I, Part A administrative funds for fiscal year 2006. Please note, however, that Minnesota must address all outstanding issues in order to have a fully compliant standards and assessment system under the ESEA by the end of the 2006-07 school year. Please refer to the enclosure for a detailed list of the evidence Minnesota must still submit to meet the requirements for an approved standards and assessment system.

Because the status of Minnesota’ standards and assessment system is still Approval Pending, Minnesota continues to be under Mandatory Oversight, as authorized under 34 C.F.R. §80.12. Under this status, we placed specific conditions on Minnesota’s fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A grant award. In addition, Minnesota must provide, not later than 20 business days from receipt of this letter, a plan and detailed timeline for how it will meet the remaining requirements to come into full compliance by the end of the 2006-07 school year. Beginning in November 2006, Minnesota must also provide bi-monthly reports on its progress implementing the plan. If, at any time, Minnesota does not meet the timeline set forth in its plan, the Department will initiate proceedings, pursuant to Section 1111(g)(2) of the ESEA, to withhold 15 percent of Minnesota’s fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A administrative funds, which will then revert to local educational agencies in Minnesota.

I appreciate the steps Minnesota has taken toward meeting the requirements of the ESEA, and I know you are anxious to receive full approval of your standards and assessment system. We are committed to helping you get there. I also appreciate your willingness to join the LEP Partnership; we believe that this is the first step in providing Minnesota assistance in appropriately assessing LEP students. We also remain available to provide technical assistance regarding other issues that you identify. We will schedule an additional peer review when you have evidence available to further evaluate your system. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact Valeria Ford (Valeria.Ford@ed.gov) or Patrick Rooney (Patrick.Rooney@ed.gov) of my staff.


Henry L. Johnson


cc: Governor Tim Pawlenty
Dirk Mattson
Jessie Montano

Summary of Additional Evidence that Minnesota Must Submit to Meet ESEA Requirements for the Minnesota Assessment System


  1. Documentation and description of the process used to develop the content standards, and documentation to ensure that such content standards are challenging and rigorous.
  2. Documentation that the content standards also apply to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.


  1. Approved alternate achievement standards linked to grade-level content standards.
  2. Approved achievement descriptors for science.
  3. Evidence that a diverse group of stakeholders were involved in the development of the State’s academic achievement standards and alternate academic achievement standards.


  1. Documentation of the process used to associate levels of cognitive complexity with each benchmark and/or assessment item for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments Series II (MCA-II).
  2. Documentation of how the Test of Emerging Academic English (TEAE) aligns with the new language arts content standards, achievement standards, and MCA-II assessments.
  3. Validity study showing that the reading section of the TEAE is comparable to the reading MCA-II, and documentation that scores from the TEAE and MCA-II generate comparable scores.


  1. Technical quality, validity and reliability of all assessments (those based on grade level and alternate achievement standards).
  2. Comparability of the Math Test for English Language Learners (MTELL) and the TEAE to the MCA-II. This includes comparability at each grade level and comparability of individual tests over time.
  3. Updated accommodation guidelines for the new Minnesota assessment system and information that the use of such accommodations results in valid scores and that those scores can be aggregated with scores from non-accommodated assessments.
  4. Constancy in administration, scoring, analysis, and reporting for all of the grades and content areas when such assessments are handled by multiple contractors for the 2005-06 assessment system.
  5. Monitoring policies regarding the use of accommodations allowed for students with disabilities and LEP students.


  1. Alignment studies on the alternate assessments (for students with disabilities and those given to LEP students) demonstrating these assessments are based on the State’s content standards.
  2. Evidence of a plan and timeline that specifies when and how the State will use the information from the alignment study to strengthen the overall alignment.


  1. Policy and procedures to ensure the inclusion of all students in the MCA-II.
  2. Policy and procedures pertaining to the inclusion of students in alternate assessments, including how parents and individualized educational program (IEP) team members will be trained in the new alternate assessment system.
  3. The use of accommodations for LEP students.
  4. Policies ensuring test results of LEP students who take either the TEAE or use an accommodation are included in determining AYP.
  5. Appropriate use of accommodations for students with disabilities.
  6. Policies and guidelines providing guidance to IEP teams about how to determine which assessment is most appropriate for individual students with disabilities (e.g., updated guidelines for student participation in alternate assessments in light of the new information in the December 2003 regulation on the 1% cap when calculating AYP).
  7. Training for IEP team members regarding State guidelines for determining students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who will be assessed based on alternate achievement standards.


  1. Detailed plans for reporting results of all assessments, for 2005-06 and beyond.

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