Washington DC Assessment Letter

April 25, 2008

The Honorable Deborah Gist
State Superintendent for Education
Office of the State Superintendent of Education
Government of the District of Columbia, One Judiciary Square
441 4th Street, NW, Suite 350 North
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Superintendent Gist:

Thank you for submitting additional assessment materials for 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). We appreciate the efforts required to prepare for the latest peer review that occurred in early April 2008.

As indicated in my letter of November 28, 2007, I designated the District of Columbia’s standards and assessment system Approval Expected based on the results of the District of Columbia’s September 2007 peer review and the representations in your letter of October 10, 2007. I assigned that status because, based on the evidence available at that time, I believed the assessment system that the District of Columbia administered in 2006-07 for grades 3-8 and high school was fully compliant with the ESEA requirements and that the remaining evidence the District needed to submit would support this fact.

On April 3, 2008, peer reviewers and Department staff evaluated additional evidence that the District of Columbia submitted. Unfortunately, that evidence indicates that the District’s assessment system does not meet all the statutory and regulatory requirements of Section 1111(b)(1) and (3) of the ESEA. In particular, we continue to have concerns regarding (1) the District of Columbia’s procedure for including assessment results based on non-standard accommodations in determining adequate yearly progress (AYP) and (2) lack of detailed information about student results, such as performance level descriptors, for parents. The enclosure included with this letter describes the specific evidence the District of Columbia must submit to meet the requirements for a fully approved standards and assessment system. Please note the enclosure includes more detail than previously provided to the District of Columbia in an effort to provide greater clarity. The fundamental requirements, however, remain the same.

To ensure a satisfactory resolution of the first issue, I would like to explain our concerns in more detail. The peer reviewers and my staff examined the Test Chairperson’s Manual: Reading, Mathematics, Composition, Science and Biology, 2008 and Test Directions 2008 and found that both documents list “permissible non-standard accommodations” for students with disabilities, which include reading the reading test aloud. The same accommodation is also available for “Level 1” English language learners (ELLs) but is not designated as “non-standard” for those students. Please realize that the term “non-standard” in relation to accommodations generally means that the accommodation changes the construct of what is being assessed and, therefore, invalidates a student’s score. However, under federal regulations governing the participation of students with disabilities in statewide assessments, each state must develop guidelines for the provision of appropriate accommodations on assessments for students with disabilities, 34 C.F.R. § 300.160(b)(1), and those guidelines must identify only those accommodations for each assessment that do not invalidate a score, 34 C.F.R. § 300.160(b)(2). Thus, the District of Columbia must provide documentation that its “non-standard” accommodations appropriately measure the construct being assessed and do not invalidate a student’s score. Moreover, under the regulations cited above, the District of Columbia’s guidelines must instruct the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Teams to select, for each assessment, only those accommodations that do not invalidate a student’s score.

In your March 27, 2008 letter, you proposed to study the use of read-aloud accommodations to determine whether they change the construct of the assessment. I do not believe the approach outlined in that letter will provide a full evaluation of the read-aloud accommodation. I am enclosing a recent article by Stephen Sireci, Shuhong Li, and Stanley Scarpati from the University of Massachusetts Amherst entitled, The Effects of Test Accommodation on Test Performance: A Review of Literature. This article, which provides useful information on previous research that has been done, should guide the District of Columbia’s efforts. The article includes information on experts you may want to contact and discusses possible research designs for you to consider.

In our phone conversation on April 18, 2008, you asked to be able to use the “read-aloud” accommodation for certain students with disabilities and ELL students for the assessments being administered this spring and to include the results of those students’ assessments in proficiency calculations for purposes of determining AYP for the 2007-08 school year. The District of Columbia may do so in order not to penalize school and district AYP determinations.

Because the additional evidence provided by the District of Columbia does not confirm that the standards and assessment system meets all ESEA requirements, I have changed the status of the District of Columbia’s standards and assessment system to Approval Pending. Accordingly, the District of Columbia is placed on Mandatory Oversight, as authorized by 34 C.F.R. § 80.12, and the condition on the District of Columbia’s Title I, Part A grant award will continue. The District of Columbia may request reconsideration of its Mandatory Oversight status by submitting in writing to me, within 10 days of receipt of this letter, a detailed discussion setting forth the basis for its belief that this designation is improper, including the specific facts that support its position.

In light of this Mandatory Oversight status and due to the fact the assessment system was not in compliance for the 2007-08 school year, the District of Columbia must enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Department demonstrating its commitment and investment of resources necessary to address all outstanding issues in order to administer a fully compliant standards and assessment system during the 2008-09 school year. This MOA must include a mutually acceptable timeline for how, when, and by whom the remaining work will be completed and submitted for peer review, including quarterly reports of the District of Columbia’s progress along this timeline. I am asking Sue Rigney and Jessica Morffi of my staff to work closely with your staff to develop this timeline to ensure that it includes all necessary evidence. The MOA must be signed on or before July 1, 2008.

Because the District’s assessment system does not meet all the requirements of section 1111(b)(1) and (3) of the ESEA, the Secretary is authorized, pursuant to section 1111(g)(2) of the ESEA, to withhold all or a portion of the District of Columbia’s Title I, Part A administrative funds. The Secretary will refrain from utilizing her authority under that provision so long as the District of Columbia complies with all material terms of the MOA, including complying with significant deadlines set forth in the timeline. If, however, the District of Columbia fails to comply with any material term of the MOA, the Secretary may initiate proceedings pursuant to her withholding authority under section 1111(g)(2) of the ESEA. Both parties to the MOA will identify its material terms prior to finalizing and signing the agreement. If the Secretary should initiate withholding proceedings, in so doing and in determining the proper amount to be withheld, the Secretary will take into consideration the number of violations of the MOA by the District, as well as any other relevant circumstances.

I appreciate the steps the District of Columbia has taken toward meeting the requirements of the ESEA. I encourage you, once you have reviewed the enclosed research, to contact my staff or me regarding possible technical assistance to guide you in your evaluation of non-standard accommodations. The Department is available to provide outside experts to help with this endeavor. If you have any additional questions or would like to request technical assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Sue Rigney (Sue.Rigney@ed.gov) or Jessica Morffi (Jessica.Morffi@ed.gov) of my staff.


Kerri L. Briggs, Ph.D.


cc: Mayor Adrian Fenty
Bill Caritj



  1. Evidence showing that the accommodations permitted do not fundamentally alter the construct being assessed. The evidence must include an examination of the impact of the read-aloud accommodation on the scores of students with disabilities and ELL students.
  2. Evidence of the District of Columbia’s guidelines and implementation of those guidelines allowing only those accommodations that do not invalidate students’ scores.
  3. Evidence that allowable accommodations, especially those that result in non-standard assessment conditions, yield results that can be meaningfully aggregated with those from non-accommodated tests.


  1. Evidence of training designed to ensure appropriate use of accommodations by general and special education and ELL teachers and test administrators.
  2. A report of the number and percentage of students who took an assessment with a read-aloud accommodation in 2007-08. The report should include information on students with disabilities as a group and ELL students as a group.


  1. An Individual Student Report for the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System that includes the performance level descriptor or other information explaining the meaning of the achievement level that corresponds to a student’s score, or evidence that this information is distributed to all parents with the Individual Student Report.

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