December 15, 2014
Dear Chief State School Officer:
In September 2011, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) offered each State educational agency (SEA) the opportunity to request flexibility on behalf of itself and its local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools. This voluntary opportunity provided educators and State and local leaders with flexibility from certain requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive State-developed plans designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction. SEAs have used this flexibility to design and implement State-specific, innovative, locally appropriate strategies to address their most pressing education challenges and enhance support to educators and students.
On November 13, 2014, I invited each SEA with an approved ESEA flexibility request that will expire at the end of the 2014–2015 school year to request a three-year renewal of ESEA flexibility, through the 2017–2018 school year. SEAs that were approved to implement ESEA flexibility beginning in the 2012–2013 school year (Windows 1 and 2) that are meeting their commitments to the original timelines and principles of ESEA flexibility are eligible for a four-year renewal through the 2018–2019 school year and are invited to participate in an expedited review process.
To support an SEA in developing a request for renewal of ESEA flexibility and in implementing an approved request, ED has prepared the attached Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). I encourage an SEA interested in requesting renewal of ESEA flexibility to consider these FAQs as it develops its request. Further, as the FAQs presume familiarity with the Renewal Guidance and the Renewal Form, I encourage you and your staff to review those documents carefully, and to have them available when reading through the attached FAQs.
Although it is important to review all of the FAQs, I want to highlight a few key areas that warrant particular attention:
- Section B, Evaluation: As described in the ESEA Flexibility Renewal Guidance, given the range of SEA and LEA strategies being implemented under ESEA flexibility, ED is interested in working with SEAs to evaluate and learn from different State and local approaches, including providing some funding for such evaluations. Section B of the FAQs provides additional information about the process by which an SEA may propose and receive up to $1 million per year for up to four years to participate in an evaluation. Please note that an SEA may request and receive approval of its ESEA flexibility renewal request for a fourth year, through the 2018–2019 school year, if a funded evaluation would benefit from an additional year of implementation.
- Question E-3, “Pause” of Annual School Ratings or Grades Under State Systems: As SEAs are looking ahead to new college- and career-ready assessments, a number of SEAs have asked if ED would permit them to amend their ESEA flexibility request to “pause” schools in their current rating or grade for the 2015-2016 school year, under their state system of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support. Question E-3 states that an SEA may propose such a “pause” of the implementation of a school grading or rating system through its renewal request, and explains what an SEA must provide in amending its ESEA flexibility request to reflect this change.
- Section F, Principle 3 (Teacher and Principal Evaluation and Support Systems): As described in the ESEA Flexibility Renewal Guidance, each SEA must choose one option under Assurance 15 based on the current status of its implementation of teacher and principal evaluation and support systems under Principle 3. Different options exist for SEAs at varying stages of implementation. Section F of the FAQs provides greater detail about how an SEA should choose the appropriate option and what, if any, additional information the SEA will need to include in its renewal request in Principle 3.
ED will continue to provide technical assistance throughout the renewal process, including conducting a webinar to discuss the FAQs on Thursday, December 18th. That webinar will be an opportunity for you and your staff to ask questions and gain clarity about the ESEA flexibility renewal process. We will also post the webinar on the ESEA flexibility page of ED’s website.
Should you have any questions regarding ESEA flexibility or the renewal process, please do not hesitate to reach out to your ESEA flexibility State contact or to send questions by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your commitment to improving educational outcomes for all students in your State and for supporting educators in this important work. I look forward to our continued partnership.
Deborah S. Delisle
Frequently Asked Questions