Superintendent's Memo #029-09

State seal, Commonwealth of Virginia

Department of Education

February 13, 2009

TO: Division Superintendents

FROM: Patricia I. Wright, Superintendent of Public Instruction

SUBJECT: Comments on Science Flexibility Agreement

As most of you are aware, under the requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), each state is required to submit its assessment system for peer review and approval by the United States Department of Education (USED). Virginia’s reading and mathematics assessments were approved by USED in December 2007. However, Virginia’s science assessments are still being reviewed. In the attached letter received from Kerri Briggs, assistant secretary at USED, on January 16, 2009, USED expressed concern about Virginia’s use of end-of-course (EOC) science assessments in Earth Science, Biology, and Chemistry to meet the requirements of NCLB for the high school level. USED believes that Virginia’s use of EOC science assessments conflicts with the provisions of NCLB requiring that states apply the same academic content and achievement standards to all public school students and use the same academic assessments to measure the achievement of all students.

However, USED recognizes that EOC assessments may be more closely related to the high school curriculum and may provide a more direct link to progress toward graduation than other tests that states might use to meet the science requirements of NCLB. Therefore, USED wishes to explore the implications of allowing high school students to choose from multiple EOC science assessments and evaluate possible safeguards to ensure that all students are held to the highest possible standards in science.

To that end, USED has agreed to enter into a flexibility agreement with Virginia to allow high school students to choose one EOC science assessment from among three options (Earth Science, Biology, and Chemistry). Further, as a condition of being approved for this flexibility agreement, Virginia has agreed to provide data in order to inform USED’s understanding of the appropriate use of multiple EOC assessments in state standards and assessment systems. Virginia will work with USED to provide the following information, as available:

  1. Evidence that all EOC assessments meet peer review criteria for academic achievement standards, technical quality, alignment, and inclusion (including an alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards for each EOC assessment);
  2. A rationale for the menu of EOC assessments, including how the EOC assessments align with state graduation requirements;
  3. Evidence of enrollment patterns for earth science, biology, and chemistry during the 2005-06 through the 2007-08 school years, in aggregate and disaggregated by:
  4. Evidence of course offerings by local education agency (LEA) demonstrating that no bias exists in options available to students; and
  5. Evidence of state policies that indicate inclusion of all students and equal access to each of the science courses.

As required by section 9401 (b)(3)(A) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Virginia must provide school divisions with an opportunity to comment on the proposed flexibility agreement. Should you have comments regarding the agreement, please submit them by e-mail to or by fax to (804) 371-8978 using the subject line “Comments on EOC Science Flexibility Agreement.” If you have questions, please submit them to the e-mail address above or call the student assessment staff at (804) 225-2102.



a. Feb. 13, 2009, USED Letter Concerning Science EOC Assessments (PDF)