Pennsylvania Assessment Letter

May 8, 2006

Dr. Gerald L. Zahorchak
Secretary of Education
Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street, 10th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333

Dear Secretary Zahorchak:

Thank you for submitting Pennsylvania’s assessment materials for review under the standards and assessment requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). We appreciate the efforts required to prepare for the peer review and hope that the process provides useful feedback that will support Pennsylvania’s efforts to monitor student progress toward challenging standards.

External peer reviewers and U.S. Department of Education (ED) staff evaluated Pennsylvania’s submission and found, based on the evidence received, that it did not meet all the statutory and regulatory requirements of Section 1111(b)(3) of the ESEA. I know that my staff has discussed the results of this review with your staff. However, I want to take this opportunity to enumerate the evidence that Pennsylvania must provide in order to have a fully compliant standards and assessment system under ESEA. That evidence is listed on the last pages of this letter.

I urge you to submit any available evidence demonstrating how Pennsylvania’s system meets the standards and assessment requirements as soon as possible. I also request that, as soon as possible, you provide us a plan with a detailed timeline for how Pennsylvania will meet any remaining requirements for which evidence is not currently available. After reviewing those materials, I will then determine the appropriate approval status for Pennsylvania’s standards and assessment system.

Enclosed with this letter are detailed comments from the peer review team that evaluated Pennsylvania’s assessment materials. The peer reviewers, experts in the areas of standards and assessment, review and discuss a State’s submission of evidence and prepare a consensus report. I hope you will find the reviewers’ comments and suggestions helpful, and remind you of our offer to provide you further technical assistance at your request.

We look forward to working with Pennsylvania to support a high-quality assessment system. If you would like to discuss this further or would like to request technical assistance, please do not hesitate to call David J. Harmon (202-205-3554) or Catherine Freeman (202- 401-3058) of my staff.


Henry L. Johnson


cc: Governor Edward G. Rendell Ray Young

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


  1. Develop and formally adopt challenging academic content standards in reading and mathematics at grades 4, 6, and 7.


  1. Approved academic achievement standards for PSSA at grades 3, 4, 6, and 7, and PASA at grades 4, 6, and 7 with documentation of diverse stakeholder participation (for both the PSSA and PASA).
  2. Documentation that science performance level descriptors are complete.
  3. Additional documentation showing that parents are informed about and understand the consequences of agreeing to the use of alternate assessments.


  1. Documentation of full implementation of PSSA in grades 4, 6, and 7, as planned.
  2. Comparability of grade 3 PSSA reading forms with common and matrix items.
  3. Comparability of direct Spanish translations of PSSA mathematics with the English versions.
  4. Plan for increasing the cognitive demand of PSSA items.


  1. Documentation of validity and reliability of the PSSA at grades 3, 4, 6, and 7.
  2. Evidence of validity of the PASA.
  3. Technical quality documentation for PSSA standard setting at grades 3, 4, 6, and 7, and PASA standard setting at grades 3-8 and 11.
  4. Documentation that the State monitors assessment system and testing activities with special attention to auditing IEP and LEP accommodations.


  1. Detailed plans to improve PSSA reading and math alignment at grades 3, 5, 8, and 11 with academic content standards and achievement standards.
  2. Documentation (including detailed test blueprints) of reading and math PSSA alignment at grades 4, 6, and 7 with academic content and achievement standards.
  3. Documentation of PASA alignment with grade-level content standards.


  1. Documentation of the inclusion of all migrant students (in all grades) and students with the most severe cognitive disabilities in grades 4, 6, and 7.
  2. Enrollment and number of students assessed by grade level, content area, and subgroup on both the PSSA and PASA.


  1. Student/parent, school, and district PASA assessment reports for grades 3, 5, 8, and 11, and PSSA “mockups” or actual reports for grades 4, 6, and 7.
  2. Timelines for reporting assessment results to parents.

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