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Ed. Department Puts Massachusetts Title I Funds on 'High Risk' Status

The U.S. Department of Education has placed some of Massachusetts' Title I funds on "high risk" status over its decision not to administer a single statewide exam this school year.

In its Dec. 21 letter to state Commissioner Mitch Chester, the department said the state must show that it administered the same test statewide in English/language arts and math to students in grades 3-8 by May 31, 2016, or else potentially lose a portion of the state's Title I funds. CLARIFICATION: The original blog post highlighted the status of the state's NCLB waiver, but the department's letter focuses specifically on the state's Title I funds, which is in turn tied to Massachusetts' waiver.  

Here's the Bay State background you need to know: For the 2014-15 school year, the state allowed districts to decide whether to administer the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams. Earlier this year, the state board was slated to pick which one of those tests Massachusetts would use statewide going forward.

Instead, last month, the state board declined to require a single statewide exam for all districts for the 2015-16 academic year, and committed to developing a hybrid test that will draw on both MCAS and PARCC for the 2016-17 school year. Districts that gave PARCC in 2014-15 will do so again this year, while districts that gave MCAS last year will give a slightly altered version this year that would include some PARCC items.

But the Education Department hasn't been a big fan of the state administering more than one "statewide" exam. Although the department approved an extension of the state's No Child Left Behind waiver last year, it also required the state to come up with and submit a plan to give just one statewide exam in 2015-16. Massachusetts did so, but the state board's decision last month overturned that plan.

"A single statewide assessment in each subject serves a critical equity purpose, ensuring that all students are being held to the same high standards regardless of their zip code or background," the department's letter to Chester reads.

The department also notes that the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Barack Obama earlier this month, maintains the requirement for a single statewide assessment. 

Massachusetts has 10 business days, starting from Dec. 21, to appeal the "high risk" status. 

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