August 2, 2013
Dear Chief State School Officers,
In recent years, State and local leaders, along with educators, have been moving forward with critical State-led reforms in a number of areas, including developing and implementing college- and career-ready standards and assessments, creating differentiated recognition, accountability and support systems, and implementing teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that include student growth as a significant factor and provide meaningful feedback to improve instruction. As you and others have been engaged in this work, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) has been sensitive to the complexities of these dramatic reforms.
In light of these complexities, Secretary Duncan wrote to you on June 18, 2013, announcing that the Department will consider, on a State-by-State basis, requests for flexibility in two areas: the timeline for using results of teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that meet the requirements of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility for personnel decisions, and field testing new assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards. This letter is to provide you with additional information as to the timeline for using results of teacher and principal evaluation and support systems to inform personnel decisions. We will provide additional information about the flexibility regarding field testing new assessments soon.
Every State educational agency (SEA) whose ESEA flexibility request was approved in Window 1 or Window 2 (i.e., approved to begin implementation in the 2012-2013 school year) was required to commit to fully implementing teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that meet the requirements of ESEA flexibility, which include the use of student growth as a significant factor. These systems were to be fully implemented in the 2014-2015 school year, and the results of those systems were scheduled to inform personnel decisions no later than the 2015-2016 school year. Some SEAs committed to implementing these evaluation and support systems even earlier.
As Secretary Duncan announced in his June 18, 2013, letter, the Department is willing to consider, on a State-by-State basis, requests to permit a Window 1 or Window 2 SEA to have one additional year beyond the timeline required by ESEA flexibility — that is, to have until the 2016–2017 school year — to use the results of its teacher and principal evaluation and support systems to inform personnel decisions. Please know, however, that this flexibility is not an automatic extension to 2016-2017. An SEA will need to request this flexibility and provide a rationale for its extension request (e.g., an explanation of what actions the SEA has taken to meet the currently required timeline, why those actions have resulted in a need for an extended timeline, and what the SEA will do during the transition if approved for an extension). The Department will consider each request based on an SEA’s currently approved ESEA flexibility request and, in particular, its timeline for implementing its teacher and principal evaluation and support systems (Principle 3).
This flexibility does not permit an SEA to pause implementing its teacher and principal evaluation and support systems. Thus, the evaluation systems that an SEA implements in the 2014-2015 school year must be used to continually improve instruction; meaningfully differentiate performance using at least three performance levels; determine performance levels using multiple valid measures, including as a significant factor data on student growth for all students and other measures of professional practices; evaluate teachers and principals on a regular basis; and provide clear, timely, and useful feedback to drive support and professional development.
The Department understands and expects that SEAs will vary in the approaches they require or permit their local educational agencies (LEAs) to take in making personnel decisions prior to using the results of the fully implemented teacher and principal evaluation and support systems to inform those decisions. As noted above, beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, teachers and principals must receive a performance rating using evaluation systems that meet the requirements of ESEA flexibility. However, during this transition, an SEA and its LEAs might use other information to inform personnel decisions, such as existing evaluation systems, measures of teacher and principal practices, or measures of student growth that are not based on statewide assessments.
To receive this flexibility, a Window 1 or Window 2 SEA may submit a request to amend its ESEA flexibility request through the regular ESEA flexibility amendment process, details about which are available at http://www2.ed.gov/policy/eseaflex/amendment-submission-process.doc. However, the Department is modifying slightly the usual process for submitting amendment requests for this particular purpose. First, all requests for this amendment must be submitted no later than September 30, 2013. Second, an SEA need not submit a redlined version of its ESEA flexibility request with changes that reflect the proposed amendment. Rather, the SEA need submit only a completed version of the amendment request template, including: (1) the ESEA flexibility element affected by the proposed amendment (i.e., element 3.B); (2) a brief description of the element as originally approved (e.g., the SEA intended to begin using the new evaluation systems to inform personnel decisions beginning in 2015-2016); (3) a brief description of the requested amendment, including the new timeline for using the new evaluation systems to inform personnel decisions; (4) the rationale for the requested amendment; and (5) a description of the SEA’s process for consulting with stakeholders regarding the amendment, a summary of the comments, and a description of the changes, if any, the SEA made as a result of the comments. If the Department approves the amendment request, the SEA must provide an updated ESEA flexibility request that reflects the amendment with additional details on its high-quality plan, timeline, and activities related to this amendment as part of the process for requesting renewal of ESEA flexibility. Details about the renewal process will be available soon.
Some Window 1 or Window 2 ESEA flexibility SEAs have also received a grant under Race to the Top in which they committed to using the results of their new evaluation systems to inform personnel decisions on specific timelines. In order to implement the additional flexibility being offered under ESEA flexibility, a Race to the Top grantee will also need to request and receive approval from the Race to the Top program office to amend its Race to the Top scope of work. The Department will review such an amendment request against the Race to the Top amendment principles. As part of this review, an SEA must provide a rationale explaining how it will continue to meet all relevant commitments and goals under the grant including any dependent projects and activities. In order to reduce burden and to facilitate the process for these SEAs, the Department will post a sample request for a joint ESEA flexibility and Race to the Top amendment on its Web site soon.
Please note that an SEA whose ESEA flexibility request was approved through Window 3 or Window 4 (to begin implementation in the 2013-2014 school year) may not apply for this flexibility. These SEAs already have the flexibility to use their new evaluation systems to inform personnel decisions beginning no later than the 2016-2017 school year.
I recognize that not every SEA will want or need to take advantage of this flexibility option. For example, an SEA whose LEAs are on track to fully implement their new teacher and principal evaluation and support systems and to use the results of those systems to inform personnel decisions ahead of the 2015-2016 school year may wish to adhere to the current timeline. Additionally, some States may have laws that require using the results of their new evaluation systems to inform personnel decisions prior to the 2016-2017 school year. I encourage SEAs to make judicious use of this flexibility.
To aid you in the process of developing this amendment request, the Department will provide additional guidance within the coming weeks. The Department is also happy to work with an individual SEA to help determine the best ways to incorporate this flexibility into its approved ESEA flexibility request. As a reminder, your amendment request must be submitted by September 30, 2013.
Please know that the Department greatly appreciates your efforts in leading these important reforms and your commitment to improving educational outcomes for all students. I look forward to our continued partnership in this critical work. I hope you find some time to reenergize over the next month and prepare to launch another exciting school year for your educators, students, and their families.
Deborah S. Delisle
cc: Council of Chief State School Officers