Federal Accountability

Updated: August 2013

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility Waiver Frequently Asked Questions

Section 1: General Questions

Section 2: Accountability Measurements

Section 3: Recognition, Accountability and Support

Section 4: Parent Engagement and Choice

Section 5: School and District Finances

Section 6: School and District Planning Activities

Section 7: Teacher Qualifications and Evaluations

General Questions

Q: What does the waiver mean for Minnesota?

A: The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the primary driver behind education systems across the country. The 2001 authorization of ESEA is called No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and since 2001, all states have been operating under the requirements outlined in this law. There has long been a consensus that many aspects of NCLB have not been effective in measuring or improving school effectiveness. The ESEA Flexibility Waiver (also known as “the waiver”) was an opportunity to gain greater flexibility in the way we measure schools for accountability and the way that schools, districts and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) work to improve struggling schools.

Minnesota now has a new system of accountability for schools. At the foundation of this system is a Multiple Measurements Rating (MMR) that replaces Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as the primary measurement of school performance. The MMR looks at proficiency, growth, achievement gap reduction and graduation rates. Using the MMR, we will now identify schools for recognition, accountability and support by designating a percentage of Title I schools as Priority, Focus, Continuous Improvement, Celebration Eligible and Reward schools. Please see the NCLB Waiver Glossary for definitions of all these terms.

Q: How will assessments change under the waiver?

A: Students are still required to take the same assessments, and nothing in the assessments themselves is changed under the waiver. The only change is that assessment results are used in a different way for accountability purposes.

Q: How will the waiver affect the standards/expectations of a child’s academic achievements?

A: Nothing in the waiver changes the state’s rigorous academic standards in any way. The statewide standards remain in place. The state has only changed the way it measures schools’ ability to help students meet those standards, as Minnesota is now using the MMR to measure school performance.

Q: How long will the waiver be in effect?

A: The waiver is approved for two years, with an option to extend for a third year. Year one is the 2012-13 school year. However, if ESEA is reauthorized before the end of the waiver period, the reauthorized law would take precedence over the waiver. MDE has worked to ensure that the approved waiver is compatible with congressional reauthorization proposals.

Accountability Measurements

Q: How do schools get measured in the new accountability system?

A: All schools in the state are given an annual MMR and Focus Rating (FR), and schools and districts are still given an AYP determination each year as well. The MMR is the primary driver of recognition, accountability and support in Minnesota. The FR is a secondary measurement for schools that sheds light on a school’s ability to close growth gaps and achievement gaps.

Q: When are the MMR and FR released?

A: In 2013, MMR and FR results as well as school designations will be reported on or around October 1. In future years, MMR, FR and the school designation lists will be released in the summer, around the same time that AYP has traditionally been released in late July or August.

Q: What measurements are included in the MMR and FR?

A: The MMR includes data on all students in the school focused in four areas: proficiency, student growth, achievement gap reduction and graduation rates. The FR includes data on only students of color, students in poverty, special education students and English learners in two areas: proficiency and achievement gap reduction. Reading and math are the two subjects included the MMR and FR.

Q: How is proficiency measured in the MMR?

A: Using the existing AYP index model, schools can receive points based on the weighted percentage of their subgroups that make AYP. The subgroups are weighted according to size. For the purposes of the MMR, schools and subgroups can only make AYP by meeting their AYP index targets, not through Safe Harbor, which measures year-to-year improvements in proficiency rates. Every school’s weighted percentage is given a percentile rank within their school classifications (elementary, middle/junior high, high school, other), which is multiplied by 25 possible points to generate the number of points a school earns in the proficiency domain.

Q: How is growth measured in the MMR?

A: Using the Minnesota Growth Model, each student is given a growth score based on how their assessment score compares to their expected assessment score. Expected scores are generated by looking at the statewide averages for each score from year-to-year. For example, to generate the expected fourth grade score for a student whose score was 50 in third grade, we look at the average fourth grade score of every student who scored a 50 in third grade. The student’s fourth growth score is then based on how they score compared to that expectation. All individual student reading and math growth scores are then averaged to generate a school growth score. School growth scores are given a percentile rank within their school classifications (elementary, middle/junior high, high school, other), which is multiplied by 25 possible points to generate the number of points a school earns in the growth domain.

Q: Will schools only be responsible for the growth of students that were enrolled in the school for two consecutive years?

A: Schools are measured on the proficiency and growth of students that are enrolled in the same school for the full academic year, regardless of whether they were enrolled at that same school in prior years. All students with a prior year Minnesota assessment score are given a growth score that is used to determine a school’s growth score. Student growth scores are also used in the achievement gap reduction domain of MMR if the student is in one of the seven achievement gap subgroups.

Q: Are growth predictions that are used in the growth measurement generated by school averages or statewide averages?

A: Growth expectations for students are based on statewide averages for student growth using the existing Minnesota Growth Model methodology.

Q: How does the growth measurement used in the MMR compare to the growth measurement that generates the growth data on the Data Center of the MDE website?

A: The underlying methodology that is used to generate the growth data in the Data Center – which was created by statute as the Minnesota Growth Model – is the same as what will be used in the MMR. The student growth expectations are the same in the MMR as they are in the Minnesota Growth Model. There are only two differences in the way this data is computed. First, the MMR growth model uses data from alternative assessments given to students with disabilities, whereas the current Minnesota Growth Model does not. Second, while the Minnesota Growth Model gives the percentages of students with low, medium, and high growth, the MMR growth model simply gives the average growth score in each school.

Q: How is achievement gap reduction measured in the MMR?

A: With the same individual student growth scores that are used in the growth domain, MDE measures the success schools have in getting higher rates of growth in the seven subgroups that are typically lower-performing. In order to generate a positive score, the growth of a school’s lower-performing subgroups must be higher than the statewide averages for those groups’ counterparts. School achievement gap scores are given a percentile rank within their school classifications (elementary, middle/junior high, high school, other), which is multiplied by 25 possible points to generate the number of points a school earns in the achievement gap reduction domain.

Q: Which subgroups are measured for achievement gap reduction?

A: The achievement gap reduction measurement measures the ability of schools to get higher levels of growth in the following seven subgroups: American Indian Asian, Black, Hispanic, English learners (EL) [or Limited English Proficient (LEP)], free and reduced-price lunch (FRPL), and special education. The four subgroups of students of color are compared to the statewide average for white students. The three other subgroups are compared to the statewide average growth for all students that are not in their subgroup (e.g., EL students are compared to the statewide average of all non-EL students).

Q: How is graduation rate measured in the MMR?

A: Graduation rate is measured with the same methodology that is used in the proficiency domain: by looking at a weighted percentage of subgroups that meet their AYP graduation rate target. The graduation rate target is 90 percent for students overall as well as for each subgroup. Every high school’s weighted percentage is given a percentile rank within their school classifications (elementary, middle/junior high, high school, other), which is multiplied by 25 possible points to generate the number of points a school earns in the graduation rate domain.

Q: How is the total MMR calculated?

A: A school’s MMR is computed by dividing the total number of points a school earned in all of the domains by the total number of points it could have possibly earned to generate a percentage. For most elementary and middle/junior high schools, there will be 75 possible points. For most high schools, there will be 100 possible points. For all schools, the MMR will be a 0-100 percentage.

Q: What is the Focus Rating (FR)?

A: The FR is focused on a school’s ability to close growth gaps and achievement gaps among typically lower-performing groups. The FR includes both proficiency and achievement gap reduction data on the following groups of students: American Indian, Asian, Black, Hispanic, English learners, free and reduced-price lunch and special education. While the MMR has four measurements, the FR only has two domains: focused proficiency and achievement gap reduction. For all schools, there are 50 possible points in the FR.

Q: How are schools with a highly mobile student population measured?

A: In order to be included in a school’s accountability measurements, a student must be enrolled for a full academic year. Students who are only enrolled in a school for part of the school year are still expected to take the assessment, but are not included in the proficiency, growth or achievement gap reduction measurements. In order to be measured for growth and achievement gap reduction, students must have a current year and previous year reported score. It is not necessary for those scores to come from the same school for a student’s growth score to be included in MMR.

Q: How does the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measurement fit into this new system?

A: AYP is still calculated and reported annually for every school and district, but there are two major changes to the way this is done. First, the 2014 goal of 100 percent proficiency has been replaced with the 2017 goal of reducing the achievement gap by 50 percent. Second, there are no longer sanctions are mandates associated with not making AYP. Rather, AYP is used as a reporting tool to gauge district and school progress on meeting the goal of reducing the achievement gap. It should also be noted that subgroup performance on AYP determines a school’s performance on the Proficiency and Graduation Rate domains of the MMR.

Q: Is AYP proficiency still calculated using an index rate or is it now by the percentage of students testing as proficient?

A: Nothing changes in the AYP calculation except for the proficiency targets. AYP is still calculated with the existing index model that awards half a point for students testing partially proficient, and one point for students meeting or exceeding proficiency.

Q: How do participation, attendance and graduation rate factor into AYP determinations going forward under the waiver?

A: The only aspect that changes about the AYP measurement itself is the proficiency targets. Participation, attendance and graduation rate are still considered in all AYP determinations and have the same targets going forward (with the exception of the graduation rate target which had the new 90% target starting in 2012, as required by the U.S. Department of Education).

Q: What is the minimum subgroup cell size in order to be scored on the four measurements in the MMR and in AYP?

A: The AYP cell size restrictions remain the same. A subgroup must have at least 20 students to be measured for proficiency, growth, and achievement gap reduction. A subgroup must have at least 40 students in order to be measured for participation, attendance and graduation rate.

Q: How does MDE track the academic performance of special education students?

A: All student performance data is disaggregated to show the performance of each of the nine ESEA-mandated subgroups, including special education. Furthermore, the special education subgroup is one of the seven that is measured for achievement gap reduction.

Q: How does the waiver impact Title III Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAOs)?

A: The AMAOs remain unchanged. The only impact the waiver has on AMAOs is that the AYP targets for English learners have been changed along with all other subgroups.

Q: Do districts still have access to student-level performance data to determine how school-level measurements were made by MDE?

A: Districts and schools still have access to all relevant student level data in a format that exhibits how the data was used to generate school-level measurements in the MMR and AYP.

Q: How does the performance of Minnesota students compare to that of other states, including the other states that have received waivers?

A: Minnesota will still be required to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which is given to students in every state in the country. The NAEP results allow the public to see how students from Minnesota compare to those in other states.

Recognition, Accountability and Support

Q: What types of schools are eligible for the school designations?

A: Only schools receiving Title I funds are eligible for the school designations (Priority, Focus, Continuous Improvement, Celebration Eligible and Reward). The only non-Title I schools that are eligible for designation are those current SIG schools that are not Title I schools.

Q: When does MDE release the lists of schools?

A: The Continuous Improvement, Celebration Eligible and Reward school lists are released on an annual basis along with the MMR data. Priority and Focus schools are designated every three years; thus, the schools that were designated as Priority or Focus in spring 2012 will remain in that status unless they meet exit criteria.

Q: How many schools fall into each of the new school designations?

A: The bottom five percent of Title I schools (approximately 42 schools) are identified as Priority Schools. Ten percent of Title I schools (approximately 85 schools) are identified as Focus Schools because they are making the largest contributions to the state’s achievement gap. The top 15 percent of Title I schools (approximately 125 schools) are identified as Reward Schools. An additional 25 percent of high-performing Title I schools (approximately 210 schools) receive the Celebration Eligible status, with 10 percent of Title I schools (approximately 85 schools) being designated Celebration Schools. The bottom 25 percent of schools (approximately 210 schools) that are not already identified as Priority or Focus are designated as Continuous Improvement Schools.

Q: What are Priority Schools required to do for improvement?

A: Priority Schools are required to work collaboratively with parents, their communities, their districts, Regional Centers of Excellence and MDE to develop turnaround plans. This plan has to adhere to Turnaround Principles set by the US Department of Education (these principles are outlined in the NCLB Waiver Glossary) and responds to the specific needs of the students in the school. Priority Schools maintain their status and continue working on their turnaround plans for three years unless they meet exit criteria. Priority Schools are required to set aside the equivalent of 20 percent of their Title I funds for activities related to their turnaround plan.

Q: What are Focus Schools required to do for improvement?

A: Focus Schools are required to work collaboratively with parents, their communities, their districts, Regional Centers of Excellence and MDE to develop school improvement plans aimed at improving the performance of their low-performing student subgroups. This plan is to be locally tailored by the school and district with technical assistance and strategic support from Regional Centers of Excellence and MDE. Focus Schools maintain their status and continue working on their improvement plans for three years unless they meet exit criteria. Focus Schools are required to set aside the equivalent of 20 percent of their Title I funds for activities related to their turnaround plan.

Q: What are Continuous Improvement Schools required to do for improvement?

A: Continuous Improvement Schools are required to work collaboratively with parents, their communities and their districts to develop school improvement plans. Regional Centers of Excellence and MDE are available for technical assistance and strategic support in this process. These school improvement plans are not submitted to or approved by MDE. Instead, districts are charged with implementing the plans within Continuous Improvement Schools. MDE audits 10 percent of Continuous Improvement Schools annually to ensure fidelity with the improvement planning process.

Q: Do Reward Schools receive recognition?

A: Currently, the only remuneration for Reward Schools is public recognition for their success. MDE is exploring the possibility of repurposing federal funds or securing funds from external partners to provide financial incentives to Reward Schools willing to partner with low-performing schools to share best practices.

Q: How does a school become a Celebration School and what is the recognition for that status?

A: Schools between the 60th and 86th percentile on the MMR are Celebration Eligible and may apply to MDE to become a Celebration School. These applications can include qualitative factors that go beyond assessment and graduation rates to explain why a school is deserving of recognition. MDE selects the equivalent of approximately 10 percent of Title I schools as Celebration Schools based on the quality of the applications. The primary reward for Celebration Schools is public recognition.

Q: How does the new system affect non-Title I schools?

A: As with the previous system, all schools, regardless of Title I status, are measured for accountability. Every school continues to receive an AYP determination, and every school now gets an MMR as well. However, the new school designations (Reward, Celebration Eligible, Focus, Priority and Continuous Improvement) will only apply to Title I schools.

Q: What are the district accountability provisions in the waiver?

A: The MMR and the new accountability designations are directed exclusively at schools. However, districts continue to receive annual AYP determinations, but there are no consequences or financial requirements for districts that are not making AYP. Additionally, districts with Priority and Focus Schools are required to complete a district-wide needs assessment to assess and improve their capacity for improving identified schools. If districts fail to effectively implement turnaround or improvement plans in identified schools, and exhibit persistently low performance at the district level, the district could be subject to restrictions on their Title I funding.

Q: How are SIG schools included in the accountability system?

A: Schools receiving federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds and implementing one of the SIG intervention models are also designated as Priority schools. SIG schools are required to comply with all requirements of Priority schools as well as the separate expectations of the federal SIG program.

Parent Engagement and Choice

Q: What are the parent notification requirements for identified schools?

A: Priority, Focus and Continuous Improvement schools are required to notify parents of their status upon identification and in each subsequent year until they exit their status. This notification must invite parents to participate in the school’s turnaround or improvement activities and provide opportunities to engage in the process.

Q: What are the roles of parents and communities in school improvement planning?

A: Parents and communities are crucial to the school improvement or school turnaround process. The new system of school support envisions parents and communities taking a greater role in guiding the school improvement and turnaround planning and engaging in the implementation process. District and building leadership teams should include a parent membership. Priority and Focus Schools are required to develop a comprehensive parent and community engagement plan as part of their turnaround or improvement plan, developed in consultation with parent stakeholders representing the building and the district. Continuous Improvement Schools are required to notify parents of their status and invite them to be involved in school improvement planning and implementation. Just as importantly, the MMR provides parents and communities with more information than ever before, with which the goal is to spur greater involvement in the improvement of all schools, not just those identified as Priority, Focus or Continuous Improvement. A failure to address this engagement will lead to the withholding of Title I funds.

Q: ESEA Section 1116(b)(13), which requires the district to permit a child who has transferred to remain in the choice school through the highest grade in the school, does not appear to be waived. Do districts need to continue to provide transportation for these students in future years?

A: The section was not waived so as to allow states and districts that elect to provide that transportation to do so with Title I funding. Districts should work with parents of students that changed schools through the former school choice requirements to determine whether funding for that transportation will continue in future years. After the 2011-2012 school year, districts are not required to fund the transportation of those students to schools other than their “home” school.

Q: Is Supplemental Educational Services (SES) now optional for districts?

A: Beginning in the 2012-13 school year, Supplemental Educational Services (SES) is no longer required for any schools or districts. Under No Child Left Behind, schools that failed to make AYP for a certain number of years were required to offer SES, which typically takes the form of after-school tutoring. This requirement has been waived. Districts may choose to offer SES to students, and would contract out with any external providers they choose. There is no longer a list of state-approved SES providers.

School and District Finances

Q: How does the waiver affect federal and state funding for schools?

A: There is no change to the formulas used to determine state and federal funding for schools under the waiver. State funding is completely unaffected by the waiver. Federal funding formulas remain the same, but districts have greater flexibility with these funds. AYP set-asides for school choice, SES, professional development, and district programming are eliminated, allowing districts to use a larger portion of their federal funding for district-determined activities. Additionally, the transferability allowance under Section 6123(b)(1) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has been increased from 50 percent to 100 percent, giving districts more flexibility in transferring funds between federal funding sources. Nothing in the waiver changes the federal requirement that Title I funds be used to supplement, not supplant district and school spending.

Q: Is there additional funding for Priority, Focus and Continuous Improvement Schools?

A: Beyond the newly increased flexibility and release of formerly set-aside funds, Priority, Focus and Continuous Improvement Schools continue to receive the same amount of funding. There is no new funding attached to the waiver, but it does allow the state, districts and schools to use their existing funds more flexibly and effectively.

Q: Are there any mandated parameters around how Title I funds are used in either Priority or Focus Schools?

A: Priority, Focus and Continuous Improvement schools are required to set aside the equivalent of 20 percent of their Title I funds for activities related to their turnaround or school improvement plan. MDE and the Regional Centers of Excellence work with Priority, Focus and Continuous Improvement schools to determine which activities are allowable for this set-aside.

Q: Is the 10 percent staff development set-aside still in place for districts and schools?

A: There are no longer any mandatory set-asides for staff development. Districts may still spend Title I funds on staff development but it is not required. High quality staff development would be an allowable use of a Priority or Focus School’s 20 percent set-aside.

Q: What are the fiscal implications of the waiver for nonpublic schools?

A: Nonpublic schools should be largely unaffected by the waiver. Nonpublic schools that receive Title I funds could see their funding increase as district-level set-asides (which were not distributed equitably to nonpublic schools) are eliminated and that funding rolls back into general Title I budgets. There are no circumstances under which the formula for Title I funding is altered to reduce funding for nonpublic schools.

School and District Planning Activities

Q: What are Regional Centers of Excellence and what role do they play in the new system?

A: Under the past model, there were eight education service regions to provide support to schools not making AYP. The new waiver provisions have created a need for MDE to reevaluate this model so as to provide better services to schools and districts, particularly to Priority and Focus Schools. The new models for service providers are called the Regional Centers of Excellence. The new regional centers provide a focused and consistent delivery of school improvement services across the state. Data analysis, standards, reading, math, English language development, special education and instructional leadership will be the focus of services and supports. The range of services and supports may include web-based resources and tools, as well as guided facilitation and technical assistance.

Q: Are there still district improvement plans?

A: MDE encourages all districts to continue looking at ways to improve, but there is no longer a requirement for districts to write and submit a district improvement plan on the basis of AYP or MMR results.

Q: Does MDE provide templates for school improvement plans?

A: MDE and the Regional Centers of Excellence have developed a school improvement plan format that meets the requirements under the waiver and allows the school to focus on the continuous improvement process. Priority and Focus schools use this school improvement plan template. All other schools writing improvement plans, including Continuous Improvement schools, may choose whichever format they would like but may access resources from MDE and the Regional Centers of Excellence as desired.

Q: Are there guidelines for professional development?

A: Priority and Focus Schools have to demonstrate that their professional development plans are high quality and research-based. For schools that are not Priority or Focus Schools, districts have the authority to determine professional development programming.

Q: Does the waiver affect the requirements to operate a schoolwide or targeted assistance Title I program?

A: For most schools and districts, the requirements for schoolwide and targeted assistance programs will not change under the waiver. However, Priority Schools that have a level of poverty below the 40 percent threshold required to operate a schoolwide program may choose to become a schoolwide program if it is consistent with their turnaround plan.

Q: How does the more flexible school improvement planning impact goals for Q Comp, literacy aid and other state programs?

A: Nothing in the waiver exempts schools or districts from the requirements of state programs such as Q Comp and the new required literacy planning.

Teacher Qualifications and Evaluations

Q: Do the requirements for Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT) remain in place?

A: Under the waiver, a district is not required to develop an improvement plan or restrict the use of federal funds pursuant to such a plan. Additionally, MDE is not required to enter into the agreement required by ESEA section 2141(c) with a district. Districts are not restricted in their use of Title I, Part A funds for paraprofessionals, but still must comply with the requirements with respect to paraprofessionals in ESEA section 1119(c) through (g). The basic highly qualified teacher requirements of ESEA remain in place. Also, there is still a requirement in place to ensure that poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.

Q: Is the waiver at all tied to teacher evaluation?

A: The waiver is only indirectly tied to teacher and principal evaluation. One of the US Department of Education requirements for receiving the waiver was to have these systems in place or in development, a requirement that Minnesota was able to meet due to the legislative action taken on this issue in 2011. Nothing in the waiver changes the state’s statutory requirements for evaluation systems.