Teachers may not meet federal qualifications
Siu-Runyan Comment: Another example of the NCLB Act causing more trouble and making it more difficult to help students learn.
By Paris Achen
Hundreds of middle school teachers and high school special-education teachers whom the state approved as highly qualified in the last two years may not meet the standards for the federal designation.
Following a directive by the federal government, the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission of Oregon recently changed the formula for determining whether middle school teachers and high school special education teachers are highly qualified.
The No Child Left Behind Act mandates that all teachers must demonstrate they are highly qualified in all the subjects they teach by spring 2006 through completion of coursework, a state exam or a state evaluation, though the deadline may be extended a year.
The U.S. Department of Education initially told states they could fashion their own evaluations, called the High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation.
The HOUSSE considers a combination of experience, college coursework and professional development to determine whether a teacher is highly qualified.
But in August, a federal monitoring team concluded Oregonís evaluation for middle school teachers and high school special education teachers gave excessive weight to experience.
"The feds said experience canít count for more than 50 percent," said Pam LaFreniere, TSPC teacher licensing coordinator.
The TSPC changed the high school special education and middle school evaluations Jan. 27 to a 100-point system in which experience can count for up to 50 points.
The change was noted in January in the Oregon Administrative Rules on the secretary of stateís Web site and in a No Child Left Behind publication on the TSPC Web site.
However, the agency did not directly inform school districts of the change nor send out a news release.
Officials from Jackson County school districts said they didnít know the change had been approved.
"Weíve heard nothing about the TSPC changing the HOUSSE standards," said Samantha Steele, education director for the Central Point School District.
Any seventh- or eighth-grade teacher with more than five years of experience and less than 17.25 college credit hours in the subject they teach could require a reevaluation to determine whether they are actually highly qualified under the new formula.
The change also could affect special education, alternative education and English Language Learners teachers who teach content higher than the eighth-grade level.
The TSPC has approved about 2,300 teachers as highly qualified since 2003 when the agency started conducting evaluations.
About one-sixth of those may need to be reevaluated, but the agency has no plans to inform teachers whose highly qualified designations are invalid.
"Itís the responsibility of the school district to know whether their educators are highly qualified," said Vickie Chamberlain, TSPC executive director. "They could make a determination themselves based on the information they have" about coursework, experience and professional development.
The change could impact five or six middle school teachers in the Central Point district, Steele said.
"The designation has little bearing on teachers," she said.
Districts may not fire a teacher for not being highly qualified as long as they are licensed.
In the Phoenix-Talent School District, about a dozen middle school teachers may need to seek a reevaluation, said Cally McKenzie, personnel director.
Eagle Point School District officials said they couldnít immediately provide an estimate of how many teachers might have an invalid designation.
"All this time weíve been under the assumption our teachers were highly qualified, so we havenít been working to get them college credit so they can become highly qualified," said Bill Feusahrens, superintendent of Eagle Point School District.
Staffed with only three evaluators, the TSPC is backlogged with about 250 applications from teachers seeking to show they are highly qualified in their content areas.
The agency plans to debut an online "calculator" in June that would allow school districts to input information about teachers to determine whether they are highly qualified.
School districts must report the number of classes taught by highly qualified teachers by November.
"We are working frantically to get the online calculator done, so school districts can get the information they need," Chamberlain said.
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another chance to meet standard?
Oregon may get another year to meet a federal standard requiring that teachers show they are highly qualified in all subjects they teach.
The deadline to meet the goal is spring 2006.
In October, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings indicated that states that had shown "a good faith effort" toward complying with the No Child Left Behind Act would not face sanctions for failing to show that all of its public school courses are taught by highly qualified teachers.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines and a timeline for reviewing state plans and revisions for making all teachers highly qualified by spring 2007.
The federal government will review statesí plans in March and April.
It is slated to notify states in May whether they should submit revised plans. The revisions are due July 7.
"States for several years have been saying, especially in rural and small school districts, there wasnít a chance of reaching 100 percent by 2006," said Pat Burk, chief policy officer for the Oregon Department of Education. "In Oregon, weíve come close, and we feel good about that."
The number of Oregon teachers who are highly qualified in every subject they teach has increased from 82 percent to 90 percent between 2002 and 2005.
Teachers can show they are highly qualified in subjects they teach through coursework, a state test or a state evaluation.
School district officials say assigning a highly qualified teacher to every class is an unachievable goal in small, rural schools and special education courses.
Small, rural school districts, such as Butte Falls, often depend on one teacher to teach two or three core classes as well as electives.
"In order for students to receive the entirety of our curricula itís often necessary to use one teacher for multiple subjects," said Steve Pine, superintendent of the Butte Falls School District. "We donít have the funding to hire more teachers."
Becoming highly qualified under federal standards is also difficult for special education teachers.
"A high school special education class might have one teacher providing all core classes," said Juli Di Chiro, superintendent of the Ashland School District. "A highly qualified teacher must be endorsed in every subject area, reading, social studies, math. We think thatís completely unrealistic."
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES