Request to Amend Accountability Plan – Pennsylvania – NCLB Policy Letters to States

August 18, 2008

Dr. Gerald L. Zahorchak
Secretary of Education
Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17126

Dear Secretary Zahorchak:

I am writing in response to Pennsylvania’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 discussions between the Department and your staff, you made certain changes to Pennsylvania’s accountability plan, which are now included in an amended State accountability plan that Pennsylvania submitted to the Department on July 25, 2008. I am pleased to fully approve Pennsylvania’s amended plan, which we will post on the Department’s website. A summary of Pennsylvania’s requested amendments is enclosed with this letter. As you know, any further requests to amend Pennsylvania’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 Pennsylvania’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 Pennsylvania 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 ( or Sue Rigney ( of my staff.


Kerri L. Briggs, Ph.D.


cc: Governor Ed Rendell
Shula Nedley

Amendments to Pennsylvania’s Accountability Plan

The following is a summary of Pennsylvania’s amendment requests. Please refer to the Department’s website (www.ed.gov for Pennsylvania’s complete accountability plan.

Acceptable amendments

The following amendments are aligned with the statute and regulations:

Inclusion of all schools (Element 1.1)

Revision: In situations where a school does not administer statewide assessments because of their grade configuration Pennsylvania will use the district-wide results of the grade into which these students feed when calculating AYP determinations. However, because charter schools do not necessarily feed into any particular district, charter schools that do not administer statewide assessments because of their grade configurations will determine their AYP status based on their other academic indicator: graduation rate for those charter schools that have a graduating class or attendance rate for those charter schools that do not have a graduating class.

Revision: Pennsylvania clarifies that a school will be considered a new school under any of the following conditions: (1) Two or more existing schools consolidate to form a new school and the result is a change in the original population of at least 50 percent or (2) a school experiences a change in grade configuration that involves of at least two tested grades.

Including students with disabilities in AYP determinations (Element 5.3)

Revision: Pennsylvania will use the “proxy method” (option 1 in our guidance dated December 2005 and described in the Department’s Non-Regulatory Guidance regarding Modified Academic Achievement Standards) to take advantage of the transition flexibility authorized in 34 C.F.R. § 200.20(g) regarding calculating AYP for the students with disabilities subgroup. See the Secretary’s guidance at: www.ed.gov Pennsylvania will calculate a proxy to determine the percentage of students with disabilities that is equivalent to 2.0 percent of all students assessed. For this year only, this proxy will then be added to the percentage of students with disabilities who are proficient. For any school or district that did not make AYP solely due to its students with disabilities subgroup, and only for such a school or district, Pennsylvania will use this adjusted percentage proficient to re-examine whether the school or district made AYP for the 2007-08 school year. The percentage reported to the public will be the actual percent of students with disabilities who scored at proficient.

Implementation of the state’s science assessment (Element 6.1)

Revision: Pennsylvania will administer science assessments in grades 4, 8 and 11 that will measure both content and inquiry. The results of the science assessments will not be included in the state’s AYP determinations.

Unacceptable amendments

The following amendments are not approved.

Differentiated interventions (Element 1.6)

Pennsylvania proposed several levels of interventions for schools and districts identified as in need of improvement, depending upon the extent of the failure of the school to make AYP. The Department cannot approve this proposal because it is inconsistent with section 1116 of the ESEA. Pennsylvania incorporated this proposed amendment into the proposal it submitted for the Department’s differentiated accountability pilot. Pennsylvania’s proposal for the pilot was peer reviewed on June 13-14, 2008. As was stated in the letter dated July 1, 2008, Pennsylvania’s proposal was not approved to be part of the differentiated accountability pilot at this time.

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

Pennsylvania proposed that schools that do not make AYP for two consecutive years offer supplemental educational services (SES) in the first year of being identified as in need of improvement rather than public school choice. Under this proposal, a school that fails to make AYP for three consecutive years would offer both SES and public school choice. The Department cannot approve this request because it is inconsistent with section 1116 of the ESEA.

Same subgroup/same subject identification for improvement (Element 9.1)

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) of the ESEA. 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.

Include a growth model in AYP determinations (Element 3.2)

Pennsylvania requested to implement a growth model as a means to demonstrate that schools or districts make AYP. The Pennsylvania growth model was forwarded to a group of peer reviewers through the Secretary’s growth model pilot. After considering the comments of the external peer reviewers, the Department did not approve Pennsylvania to implement its growth model in 2007-08, as noted in a letter to Pennsylvania on June 10, 2008.

Exempting limited English proficient (LEP) students from assessments (Element 5.4)

Pennsylvania proposed to exempt LEP students from participation in the state’s reading assessment until they reach a score of 3 (Developing) on the English language proficiency assessment or are in their third year of receiving English as a Second Language (ESL) services. The Department cannot approve this request because it is not consistent with the statute or in line with the Department’s regulations at 34 C.F.R. § 200.6(b)(4) regarding “recently arrived” LEP students, who may be exempted from one, and only one, administration of the reading/language arts assessment in their first 12 months of schooling in the United States.

Decision Letters on State Accountability Plans