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District News

Letter from Superintendent Jose Banda to Secretary Duncan regarding waiver 

July 9, 2014 | Audience: Families, Community, Staff | Contact: Contact: Office of Public Affairs  Phone: (206) 252-0200

The Honorable Arne Duncan
U.S. Secretary of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Duncan,

In March of 2014 the U.S. Department of Education declined to renew the State of Washington’s conditional Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility Waiver for sections of the ESEA in regards to schools receiving Title I, Part A funds. This letter is written to request that Seattle Publics Schools (SPS), Seattle, WA, be granted a Local Educational Agency (LEA) waiver from the following federal statutory and regulatory requirements:
 
ESEA Title I section 1116 -- School Improvement process, including Supplemental Educational Services (SES), Public School Choice Transfers (PSC), and set-aside funds; section 1111(b)(2) – NCLB Accountability/Adequate Yearly Progress; section 1111(h)(2)(B)(i)(I) and (ii) – Annual LEA Report Cards/School Improvement; and section 1112(b)(1)(L) and (M) and (c)(1)(C) and (D) – LEA Plans (re: school improvement, SES, Choice, and AYP);
 
34 CFR Part 200, including sections 200.13 through 200.20 – Adequate Yearly Progress; 200.21(b) -- AYP (in relation to Seattle); 200.30 through 200.46 – LEA and School Improvement; 200.48 – Funding for Choice-related Transportation and SES; 200.49 – State Responsibilities for School Improvement (in relation to Seattle); 200. 50 –State Review of LEA Progress (in relation to Seattle); and 200.52 and 200.53 – LEA Improvement and Corrective Action.
 
I. BACKGROUND

Seattle Public Schools is a diverse urban school district serving nearly 52,000 students in Pre-K through 12th grade. SPS has led the state in the development of a school accountability system, implementation of a 4-tiered teacher and principal evaluation system based on multiple measures that include student achievement gains, and a student assignment plan guaranteeing students space at their neighborhood school and a predictable pathway through 12th grade.

In 2008 SPS developed its Strategic Plan, Excellence for All, which laid the ground work for new accountability and evaluation systems based in part on student growth. The strategic plan focused on raising academic rigor, improving curriculum alignment, investing in data and assessment systems to guide instruction, and implementing a performance management framework to target program supports and services for underperforming schools.

SPS School Accountability Framework (2008-2013)

A key component of the 2008-2013 strategic plan was the SPS School Segmentation Framework that assigned every school a performance level from one (lowest achieving) to five (highest achieving). School segmentation levels are determined each year based on a combination of (1) Absolute scores, which reflect how close the school is to achieving the student outcome targets defined in strategic plan; (2) Growth Scores, which are based on the rate of annual improvement and the academic achievement gains of students as measured by a growth model; and (3) Achievement Gap Scores, which are the difference in achievement between key student subgroups in the school. (The most recent district summary report for school segmentation is included in the Appendix. This report includes an overview of the methodology, and segmentation levels for each SPS school for the past five years.)

Segmentation results have informed the district’s performance management and school improvement model in which resources have been targeted each year to support schools based on performance and need. SPS developed an equitable model of support to struggling schools similar to the model of accountability established through the ESEA Flexibility Waiver.

Federal Grant Support to Implement New Evaluation Systems
 
In 2010, SPS was awarded a federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant. With financial support from the grant, SPS, the Seattle Education Association (SEA), and the Principals Association of Seattle Schools (PASS) collaborated to develop next generation teacher and principal evaluation models based on multiple measures that were designed to focus district and school efforts toward growing and elevating teaching and leadership practice. Through this grant SPS implemented a teacher career ladder program and a principal mentoring program that recognizes and rewards its highest performing teachers and school leaders. While the TIF grant specifically supported implementation of these strategies in 27 of the district’s lowest performing schools (segmentation levels 1 and 2), the evaluation system and professional growth practices have now been implemented district-wide in all SPS schools.
 
Resources from the TIF grant were dedicated to supporting the implementation of these systems in schools serving students from our lowest income neighborhoods. SPS Title I schools were therefore among the first to implement a new evaluation model based on multiple measures, to have highly effective career ladder teachers placed in their schools, and for teachers to receive retention stipends based on meeting performance expectations.

Although the state of Washington was not able to incorporate all of the requirements necessary to keep the ESEA Flexibility Waiver, Seattle Public Schools has adopted, implemented, and maintained all of the components of its accountability and evaluations systems since 2010.

SPS Student Assignment Plan
 
In 2009, a new student assignment plan was launched, guaranteeing students a seat at their neighborhood elementary school. The plan reinforced our commitment to high quality neighborhood schools in all regions of Seattle. This was a policy shift that moved away from a district-wide choice system to the establishment of predictable regional feeder patterns for all students based on family home address. The plan also established option schools, which are accessible to students and families through an open enrollment period. While SPS believes it is important for students and families to have options when choosing schools, it is most important that every school in Seattle provides a high quality education, and that each and every student benefits from a rigorous curriculum and course of study, regardless of the school they attend.
 
Student Achievement Gains in Title I Schools

Student achievement results in recent years demonstrate a strong upward trajectory and significant narrowing of the achievement gap for students enrolled in our Title I schools. As can be seen in the charts below, between 2010 and 2013 academic proficiency in mathematics for all 3rd to 8th grade SPS students enrolled in Title I schools (combined) increased by 17.4 percentage points, whereas SPS students enrolled in Non-Title I schools improved by 11.4 percentage points, which equates to a 6.0 percentage point narrowing of the achievement gap for lower income schools. During the same period, proficiency in reading for all 3rd to 8th grade SPS students enrolled in Title I schools (combined) increased by 13.2 percentage points, whereas SPS students enrolled in Non-Title I schools improved by 7.7 percentage points, which equates to a 5.5 percentage point narrowing of the achievement gap for lower income schools.
 
Moreover, achievement results for SPS Title I schools demonstrate a strong positive trajectory compared to the trend for similar schools in other districts. In 2010, student achievement in SPS Title I schools was lower than similar schools across the state in mathematics and reading by 2.5 and 3.9 percentage points, respectively. By 2013 student achievement in SPS Title I schools was significantly above similar schools across the state in math and reading by 10.4 and 7.3 percentage points, respectively. These trends can be seen visually in the charts below. (A description of the methodology used to identify similar schools is attached in the Appendix.)
 
math graphic

reading graphic

II. BENEFITS OF ESEA FLEXIBILITY WAIVER
 
In July 2012 the State of Washington was granted the ESEA Flexibility Waiver, which allowed for the repurposing of funds previously used for Public School Choice (PSC) and Supplemental Educational Services (SES) toward investing in targeted academic supports and interventions, after school programs, and other and community partnership programs serving students at our lower income and underachieving schools.

To identify schools for supports SPS transitioned to the Priority, Focus and Emerging school accountability model established by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) for the State of Washington. The new state accountability model, which was approved by the U.S. Department of Education, was very similar to the Performance Management model SPS had established in 2008.

SPS leveraged the flexibility to redirect the mandatory NCLB 20% set aside to directly support students at the 17 Priority, Focus and Emerging schools identified by the state accountability system. Specifically, with the reallocation of set aside funds to Title I, Part A funded buildings, SPS expanded before and after school programs to 3,000+ qualifying students. The number of students provided supplemental academic support during the two years of the Flexibility waiver is approximately equal to the total number of students accessing SES services since 2009. The maximum per pupil rate in 2011-2012, the last year the district had to offer SES, was $1,495. This rate allowed only 1,400 students to apply for services. The actual usage rate was much lower due lack of provider follow-through and the quality of services provided by some outside vendors. The maximum rate assigned the district by the state for 2014-1015 is $1,191 per pupil which would only allow for approximately 1,750 students to apply.
 
Until 2012, the mandate for Public School Choice and Steps of Improvement had a negative impact on neighborhood school staff, students and parents, especially our immigrant families. During the five year period through the 2011-2012 school year (last year of AYP in the state of Washington), SPS mailed a total of 40,557 PSC letters/applications for parents to choose a SPS school not in Steps of Improvement. Out of this number a total 1,238 students requested and were assigned to a new school through PSC in this five year period. In addition, the PSC letters to our immigrant families, which were translated to home languages, caused tremendous confusion. Many felt the letter was telling them they had to switch to a new school, even if they were happy with their neighborhood school.

The ESEA flexibility waiver has allowed SPS to remove the stigmatizing “failing” school label, which has helped to reinforce district efforts to stabilize student mobility and restore the confidence of school staff and families in our commitment to neighborhood schools.
 
III. RATIONALE FOR WAIVING THE 20% SET ASIDE

With the loss of the state waiver, as required by ESEA, SPS has set aside 20% of the district’s Title I, Part A funds to support PSC transportation and SES for the 2014-2015. However the use of these funds historically has shown very limited success for a very small portion of our neediest students. Since 2007, SPS has allocated the mandated 20% set aside for contracts with state approved (not district approved) SES providers. In 2010 the SES providers served only 55% of the students assigned to their rosters.

In 2010 SPS applied for and was approved as an SES provider by the state, and during this time the district’s SES program served 100% of the students assigned (264 in total) to its program. By contrast, the SES provider with the largest enrollment of SPS students failed to serve 122 students on their assigned student list.

SPS has demonstrated through the two years of the ESEA Flexibility Waiver that we as a district can utilize the mandatory set aside for SES to maximize services to students in an after school program. We have leveraged Title I, Part A dollars with funds from the City of Seattle Families and Education Levy (FEL) dollars. Utilizing FEL and the 20% set aside for SES, SPS will serve approximately 4,000 students for targeted after school reading and mathematics interventions. SPS will pay certificated teachers and instructional assistants trained in the Common Core State Standards to offer tutoring support four days a week for 30 weeks. In contrast, under SES, approximately 1,750 students would be eligible for support. The number of hours of support and the quality of this support fluctuates greatly based on the hourly rates paid tutors by specific external SES providers. SPS believes, based on current district policy and student performance, that it has established a model of success for our most struggling students.
 
IV. WAIVER FROM STEPS OF IMPROVEMENT

When Seattle Public Schools was able to transition to the Priority and Focus accountability model with the receipt of the ESEA Flexibility Waiver in 2012, it allowed the use of former SES set aside funds to support our most struggling students and align supports to move these schools through the turnaround process. The data previously cited in this letter is a demonstration of this success.

Seattle Public Schools, as well as the state of Washington, have established an accountability framework to determine school performance (see below). We have demonstrated our commitment to leveraging ESEA flexibility to invest in targeted supports to increase the quality of instruction and improve academic achievement in Title I schools. These supports range from changes in school leadership to additional school staff FTE and specific investments in research-based academic intervention programs. The loss of the waiver would place at risk our planned investments and undermine our strategies for supporting our highest needs schools.

V. ADOPTION OF WASHINGTON STATE ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEM

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) for the State of Washington developed a new school accountability system during the period of its ESEA waiver in consultation with the U.S. Department of Education. The redesigned Washington State Achievement Index, which is used to help identify the lowest performing schools to receive support, incorporates the same student growth model that SPS has used in its own segmentation system for the past five years.
 
Seattle Public Schools will continue to leverage the state accountability framework for identifying Focus and Priority schools (see below) to determine which SPS schools require additional support each year. SPS proposes to use the Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) established by OSPI (see below) to monitor the success of its school improvement strategies and interventions, which include district and state supports and continued implementation of teacher and principal evaluation systems using multiple measures. Fully adopting the state framework will further enhance cooperation between SPS and OSPI and help district administrators coordinate and align district supports with assistance provided by the state.

Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs)

Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) are unique yearly targets in reading and mathematics for each subgroup, school and district, as described in Washington’s ESEA Flexibility Request. AMOs replaced the state uniform bar used under Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as prescribed in ESEA. Washington was approved to set AMOs to reduce proficiency gaps by half by 2017 for the “all students” group and each subgroup through its ESEA Flexibility Request.

OSPI established AMOs for each subgroup, school and district for 2011–12 through 2016–17. To calculate the 2017 target (for all students or any subgroup within a district or school) first subtract the percent proficient in the baseline year (2010–11) from 100%. The resulting “proficiency gap” must be reduced by half by 2017. The AMOs established for each year (2011-12 through 2016-17) are based on the annual increment (amount of improvement) necessary to reach the target by 2017. Targets for all students and each subgroup depend upon the baseline in 2010–11. Every school and subgroup started in a different place, and the schools and groups that are farthest behind would have the most progress to make by 2017. (A spreadsheet with AMOs for every SPS school for 2011-12 through 2016-17 is attached in the Appendix.)
 
Priority and Focus Schools

As required by Washington State’s ESEA Flexibility Request, OSPI has identified schools as Priority and Focus based on the school’s performance over the last three years. The lists of schools were determined using a methodology approved by the U.S. Department of Education to identify the state’s persistently lowest-achieving schools. (See the Appendix for an overview of OSPI’s methodology for identifying Priority and Focus schools.)
 
Priority schools are among the lowest 5 percent of schools in the state, based on achievement on state assessments in reading and math (combined) over three years and/or graduation rates. The list of Priority schools includes (1) schools with a proficiency rate in reading and math (combined) over 3 years that is less than 40%; (2) schools with an adjusted 5-year cohort graduation rate over 3 years that is less than 60%; (3) lowest performing schools based on the Washington State Achievement Index; (4) current Priority schools continuing forward to 2014–15; and (5) the bottom 5% of persistently lowest achieving schools (PLAs) in reading and math over 3 years.

Focus schools are among the lowest 10 percent of schools in the state. They have the consistently lowest performing subgroups on state assessments in reading and math (combined) and/or graduation rates over three years. The list of Focus Schools includes (1) schools with an adjusted 5-year cohort graduation rate over 3 years that is less than 60%; (2) the bottom 10% of schools based on subgroup performance in reading and math (combined) over 3 years; and (3) current Focus schools continuing forward as Focus schools in 2014–15. Newly designated Focus schools identified based on reading and math (combined) over 3 years have proficiency rates that are less than or equal to 13.58% for at least one subgroup.

Despite the loss of ESEA flexibility, currently identified Priority and Focus schools (i.e., those served in 2012–13 and in 2013–14), will continue to receive state funding during the 2014–15 school year. OSPI will continue to assist schools in fulfilling school improvement plans to be implemented in 2014-15. This support will include coaching and professional development activities based on school turnaround principles established by federal guidelines.
 
Identified SPS Priority and Focus Schools for 2014-15

The table below provides a list of identified Priority and Focus schools in Seattle Public Schools that will receive state and district services and material support during 2014-15.

School name 2014-15 Designation
Bailey Gatzert Elementary School Focus (SWD)
Cleveland High School Priority (Grad. Rate)
Hawthorne Elementary School Priority (Math/Reading)
Highland Park Elementary School Priority (Math/Reading)
Interagency Programs Priority (Grad. Rate)
Madrona K-8 School Priority (Math/Reading)
Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School Priority (Math/Reading)
Private School Services Priority (Math/Reading)
Rainier Beach High School Priority (Grad. Rate)
Seattle World School Priority (Math/Reading
South Lake High School Focus (Grad. Rate)
South Shore K-8 School Focus (SWD)
West Seattle Elementary School Priority (Math/Reading)

“SWD” = Students with disabilities
 
SPS plans to monitor these schools by tracking their success in meeting state adopted AMOs for all students and student subgroups, plus annual school results from the Washington State Achievement Index. SPS considers a reasonable bar for success to be for at least 80 percent of identified schools to meet or exceed their annual measurable objectives each year.

Note on the Transition to Common Core State Standards
 
Next year, in 2014-15, all school districts in the state will administer new Smarter Balanced assessments aligned to the next generation Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Because of the enhanced rigor of the CCSS, which establish higher standards anchored to college readiness, it is widely expected that rates of academic proficiency – as measured by the Smarter Balanced assessment – will drop throughout the state and district. If the expected decline in proficiency rates for CCSS is observed, SPS would propose to reexamine the existing AMOs established by OSPI based on current Washington State assessments, and potentially establish recalibrated AMOs projected from 2014-15 baseline results on the Smarter Balanced assessment.
 
VI. CONCLUSION

Seattle Public Schools has implemented a number of significant reforms, which have been supported in large part by federal grant funds, and made possible by the statewide ESEA flexibility waiver. These reforms included: (1) adoption of a school accountability and performance management framework to target supports and services for underperforming schools; (2) implementation of principal and teacher evaluation systems based on multiple measures including student achievement gains; (3) career ladder teacher programs and teacher retention incentives to improve teaching and learning and reduce staff mobility in our highest needs schools; (4) locally coordinated and targeted investments in research-based academic interventions and before/after school programs for our highest needs schools; and (5) a student assignment plan to reinforce our commitment to high quality neighborhood schools.

One year ago, Seattle Public Schools collaborated with community stakeholders to write our new five year strategic plan. The core elements of the plan include the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) combining systematic assessment, data guided decision-making, and a multi-tiered services delivery model to improve educational and social-emotional behavioral outcomes for all students. In addition, we have made a commitment to early learning and have embarked upon a partnership with the City of Seattle, which is asking voters to approve a levy this fall to fund universal pre-K.
 
Ensuring quality teaching and effective school leadership has been the primary focus of our strategy for improving academic achievement for all students. Our student achievement results in recent years demonstrate a strong upward trajectory relative to statewide trends, and a significant narrowing of the achievement gap for students enrolled in our Title I schools. Although large achievement gaps remain, we believe our reforms have contributed to steadily improving student outcomes. A return to the NCLB system of public school choice (PSC) and supplemental external services (SES) would be disruptive to the progress we have made, and the loss of flexibility would introduce uncertainty, place at risk our planned investments for 2014-15, and undermine our strategies for supporting and improving our highest needs schools.
 
We respectfully ask that you consider our request to be granted a Local Educational Agency (LEA) waiver from the elements of Public School Choice, Steps of Improvement and Supplemental Educational Services.

Public Notice

On Wednesday, July 9, Seattle Public Schools provided public notice to staff and community stakeholders. We communicated our intent to request the waiver in a variety of methods. A notice was placed in the Seattle Times and a letter was sent from the Superintendent to the all staff, our School Board, the media, our community member email list, which includes the Seattle Council PTSA, the Mayor, and our elected officials.
 
In addition, the letter was posted on the District homepage and through Facebook and Twitter. An email address was created (NCLBwaiver@seattleschools.org) for any staff, family or community members to provide feedback or ask questions.

We have also provided our state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction a copy of this letter and requested their comments. We will be forwarding those to the U.S. Department of Education as soon as they are received.

We look forward to your review and decision regarding this waiver. Please direct any questions regarding the details of this request to Clover Codd (clcodd@seattleschools.org), Executive Director of Strategic Planning and Partnerships for Seattle Public Schools. She will be working closely with our Cabinet, the School Board and staff throughout this process.


Respectfully,

Jose Banda Signature
José Banda
Superintendent, Seattle Public Schools

Appendix A: SPS School Segmentation District Summary Report
Appendix B: Technical Summary for Student Achievement Analysis
Appendix C: OSPI Methodology for Priority and Focus Schools
Appendix D: OSPI School Baseline and AMO Targets for SPS Schools

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