Federal laws/regulations; Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report

January 28, 2002





By: Judith Lohman, Chief Analyst

You asked (1) for a summary of the statewide student testing requirements in the new federal “No Child Left Behind Act” (P.L. 107-110), (2) how the federal requirements relate to Connecticut's existing testing program, and (3) whether the act provides authority for a state or local school district to opt out of the testing requirements.


The new federal act establishes a regime of statewide achievement tests in reading or language arts, math, and science that states must follow in order to receive a grant under Title I, Part A of the act. This so-called Title I grant is the largest federal grant to states and local school districts for the education of disadvantaged children. According to estimates from the Office of Fiscal Analysis, Connecticut expects to receive $121.1 million in FFY 2002 under this title.

The tests the act requires are the key component of its standards and accountability framework. Test results provide the basis for measuring state, school district, and school progress toward ensuring that students meet challenging state knowledge and skill standards within 12 years. Under the act, test results are used to measure the performance of all students as a group and of each of four subgroups (major racial and ethnic minorities, students with limited English, disabled students

eligible for special education, and students from poor families). Results are also used to compare school and school district performance and identify low-performing schools subject to special intervention measures.

Connecticut will be obliged to expand its current testing to meet the act's requirements. It must double the frequency with which it tests students in grades 3 through 8, add science tests in two of those grades, and expand its annual English proficiency testing for students with limited English proficiency (LEP). It appears that the state's current mastery tests meet the act's quality and validity requirements and most of its requirements for reporting results. It does not appear that the act will require any significant changes in the 10th grade Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT).

The act has no state or local opt-out of the testing requirements. It allows states to delay or suspend the required testing under certain conditions, including if annual federal funding to support the testing program falls below a specified level. In addition, the act allows states or local school districts (through states) to apply to the U.S. education secretary for a waiver of specific requirements, including the testing requirements. The waivers are temporary, generally lasting no more than four years, though extensions are possible.


Required Tests

As a condition of receiving a Title I grant, which is the largest federal education grant, the act requires states to implement high-quality, statewide student tests in math and reading or language arts. Starting in the 2005-06 school year, these tests must be given to students annually in grades 3 through 8. Until 2005-06, students must be tested in these subjects at least once while in grades 3-5 and grades 6-9. Students must also be tested in these subjects at least once in grades 10-12, starting immediately. (These three tests were already required by the previous federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.)

The new act also requires states to test students in science, though not annually, starting by the beginning of the 2007-08 school year. Science tests are required at least once in grades 3-5, grades 6-9, and grades 10-12.

These required tests must have multiple, up-to-date measures of student achievement and must test both higher order thinking skills and understanding. They must be the primary means of determining the yearly performance of the state, each school district, and each school in meeting the act's academic achievement standards within 12 years. The achievement standards must be aligned with state content standards, and have three levels of achievement or mastery - basic, proficient, and advanced.

The act leaves it to states to decide whether to test students in other subjects for which the state has standards.

Standards for Tests

The required tests must:

1. be the same for all children (see below for allowable accommodations for certain students),

2. be aligned with state content and achievement standards,

3. provide coherent information about students' attainment of the standards, and

4. be valid and reliable for the purposes for which they are used and consistent with relevant nationally recognized professional and technical standards.

Tests must objectively measure achievement, knowledge, and skills and not evaluate personal or family beliefs or disclose personally identifiable information. They must allow specific itemized score analyses for students in major racial and ethnic groups and for LEP, disabled, and economically disadvantaged students to allow parents, teachers, and administrators to interpret and address students' specific needs.

States can use tests that do not meet these requirements as additional measures of achievement but they cannot use them to reduce the number of low-performing schools identified for special intervention or to change which schools are identified.

States can incorporate data from the tests into a longitudinal system that links scores, length of enrollment, and graduation records over time.

Special Situations

Special Education Students. States must provide for any reasonable testing adaptations and accommodations needed to measure special education students' academic achievement.

LEP Students. States must include LEP students in the testing program but must, to the extent practicable, use tests in the language and form most likely to yield accurate data on what the students know and can do. States must use English language math and reading assessments for any student who has attended school in the United States (outside Puerto Rico) for at least three consecutive years. A school district may decide, on a case-by-case, individual basis, to administer assessments in another language or form for up to two additional years if the student's English is not good enough to give reliable and valid data on what he knows and can do on reading and math tests written in English.

Migrant Students. Districts must test students who have attended school in the district for at least full academic year, even if they did not go to the same school for the entire time. The performance of students who have been to more than one school in a district during the year may be used only to assess the district's progress and not a school's.

Reports of Test Results

Test result reports must:

1. show valid and reliable individual student data to allow parents, teachers, and administrators to see and address each student's specific academic needs;

2. include information on achievement against state standards;

3. provide results to parents, teachers, and administrators in a uniform and understandable format as soon as possible after the test but no later than before the beginning of the next school year;

4. to the extent practicable, provide results in a language parents can understand; and

5. report results within the state, district, and school by gender, major racial and ethnic group, English proficiency status, migrant status, and for disabled students compared to nondisabled and economically disadvantaged students compared to students who are not economically disadvantaged.

Exceptions To Testing Requirements

Federal Funding Shortfall. States can delay the start or suspend administration (but not stop development) of tests for one year for each year the federal appropriation for state testing grants is less than:

$370 million in FY 2002, $380 million in FY 2003, $390 million in FY 2004, and $400 million in FYs 2005 through 2007.

Unforeseen Circumstances. If a state demonstrates that uncontrollable or exceptional conditions, such as a natural disaster or precipitous and unforeseen decline in state financial resources, prevented full implementation of the tests, the education secretary may waive the testing requirements for one year.

Lack Of State Authority. If a state shows that it does not have sufficient authority under state law to implement these testing requirements for all public school students, it may meet the act's requirements by:

1. adopting the act's standards and testing statewide but applying the results only to children receiving Title I, Part A aid or

2. adopting policies to require school districts receiving Title I, Part A aid to adopt standards and testing that meet the act's requirements and apply them to all the students in the district.

Tests In Other Languages

Each state must identify the foreign languages present in its student population and indicate those for which annual student tests are not available and are needed. The state must make every effort to develop such tests and may ask the secretary for help.

English Language Proficiency Assessments

States must require all school districts, by the beginning of the 2002-03 school year, to annually assess the English proficiency of all their LEP students. Assessments must measure English oral language, reading, and writing skills. The secretary can delay implementation of these tests for one year if a state demonstrates that uncontrollable or exceptional conditions, such as a natural disaster or precipitous and unforeseen decline in state financial resources, prevented full implementation of the tests.

NAEP Participation

Beginning with the 2002-03 school year, each state must participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) biennial academic assessments of 4th and 8th grade reading and math, if the federal government pays the cost of administering the tests.

Public Notice

Each state education agency must notify school districts and the public about the act's content and achievement standards and testing requirements.


Connecticut Mastery Tests

Schedule. Connecticut currently requires all public school students to take statewide mastery tests in grades 4, 6 and 8. To comply with the new federal act, the state will have to add tests in grades 3, 5, and 7 by school year 2005-06.

Subjects. The 4th, 6th, and 8th grade mastery tests assess students' knowledge and skills in math, reading, and writing. This meets the federal requirements for tests in at least math and reading or language arts. But Connecticut will have to add a science component to its elementary-level tests by school year 2007-08 to meet federal requirements.

Test Quality. The mastery tests, which are aligned with state content standards adopted by the State Board of Education, appear to meet the federal requirements for high-quality and validity; multiple, up-to-date measures of student achievement; and tests of both higher order thinking skills and understanding. The math section emphasizes mastery of basic skills and concepts and the ability to apply them to solve problems. The reading section has two parts: degrees of reading power, which assesses the student's reading process, and reading comprehension, which assesses his understanding. The writing section also has two subtests, one that assesses how well students communicate in writing and the other their ability to revise and edit their written work.

Achievement Levels. Mastery test results for each subject are reported in four levels of achievement: Level 1 is the lowest or “intervention” level and Level 4 are the students who meet or exceed state goals. It is unclear whether these four levels correspond to the basic, proficient, and advanced levels specified in the federal act.

Disaggregated Results. The 2000 mastery test results for each test and grade were broken down into the following student categories:







Free/Reduced-Price Lunch

Special Education



Full-Price Lunch

Not in Special Education






Native American


Other race


Some districts also received separate results for students in bilingual and English as a Second Language programs, but the numbers were too small to report on a statewide basis.

In order to comply with the new act, Connecticut will have to add test results for LEP students and migrant students.

Connecticut Academic Performance Test

Students take the CAPT in the 10th grade. The test covers math, reading, writing, and science. Like the mastery test, achievement is scored in four levels. Results are broken down as follows:





English Proficiency



Free/Reduced-Price Lunch

Special Education

Bilingual education



Full-Price Lunch

Not in Special Education

English as a Second Language




No ESL/Bilingual program




Native American


Other race


It appears that the CAPT already complies with virtually all the requirements of the new federal law. The only issues are (1) whether the current four-level score reporting corresponds to the three-level achievement scheme required in the federal law and (2) that results must be reported for the additional category of migrant students.

English Language Proficiency Assessments

State law requires schools districts to classify each student according to his dominant language. If there are 20 or more students in a district dominant in the same foreign language, the district must provide students with a bilingual education program. Districts must also annually assess the progress of each student in a bilingual program towards meeting a state English mastery standard set by the State Board of Education (CGS Sec. 10-17f).

The new federal act requires districts to assess the English proficiency of every LEP student each year, whether or not they are in a bilingual education program. The annual assessments must start in the 2002-03 school year. Connecticut will have to expand its current English proficiency assessment program to meet this requirement. The State Department of Education's (SDE) 2001 school profiles report (using 1999-2000 data) shows 7,996 students participating in English as a Second Language programs compared to 11,625 students participating in bilingual education programs.


The new federal act allows the U.S. education secretary to waive many of its statutory and regulatory requirements, including the testing requirements, at the request of a state educational agency (in Connecticut, the SDE), local school district, Indian tribe, or school (through its local school district) that receives funding under it.

Waiver Request

To receive a waiver, the SDE or local school district must file a request with the secretary that:

1. identifies the federal programs affected;

2. describes the requirements to be waived;

3. describes how the waiver will increase the quality of instruction and improve students' academic achievement;

4. describes, for each school year, the specific measurable educational goals required by the act for the state, school district, or school that would be affected and the methods to be used to measure annual progress towards the goals;

5. explains how the waiver will help to achieve the goals; and

6. describes how schools will still provide help to the same students who would have been served by the waived program.

Local school districts must develop and submit waiver requests for themselves or any of their schools to the SDE. The SDE must, after reviewing them, submit local waiver requests to the secretary, along with any comments. If the SDE submits a waiver request on its own behalf, it must (1) give notice to all interested school districts and allow them reasonable opportunity to comment and (2) submit the local comments to the secretary. Both SDE and a local district requesting a waiver must notify the public of the request in the customary manner.

Waiver Duration

A waivers runs for four years unless the secretary extends it after determining (1) it has effectively enabled the state, district, or school to carry out the activities for which it requested the waiver and has contributed to improved student achievement and (2) the extension is in the public interest.

The secretary must terminate a waiver if he determines, after notice and an opportunity for a hearing, that (1) the state's performance or the performance of any local district affected by it is inadequate to justify its continuation or (2) it is no longer needed to achieve its original purposes.


School districts that receive waivers must report to the SDE, at the end of the second and each subsequent year of the waiver, on (1) how it or its schools are using the waiver, (2) how schools have continued to help students who would have been served by the waived programs, and (3) the schools' progress in improving instructional quality and students' academic achievement. The SDE must file an annual report with the secretary based on the local reports and containing any other information the secretary asks for.