01/13/06 — Teachers must meet guidelines

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Teachers must meet guidelines

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 13, 2006 1:51 PM

Changes prompted by the federal No Child Left Behind Act have left some special education teachers scrambling to meet the criteria by this spring.

Letters sent out by Wayne County Public Schools before Christmas informed some teachers that they might not be considered "highly qualified" to teach in certain areas. But school officials say they intend to do everything possible to help the educators attain the designation by the deadline, which is June 30.

Debbie Durham, human resource lead teacher for the school system, said she sent out about 200 letters to exceptional children, or EC, teachers. Most of the educators at the elementary level were fine, she said. Those in the middle and high schools must be highly qualified in the subject areas they teach as well as EC, which affected about 25 teachers, she said.

"It was much better than we thought it would be," she said.

Mrs. Durham said she has received several calls from longtime educators, concerned that their qualifications have come into question. For the most part, she said, many had been prepared for the possibility.

She said her office had already gone through the process with regular classroom teachers when No Child Left Behind introduced the notion and criteria for highly qualified teachers in 2003. Until recently, though, there were no guidelines specific to teachers of exceptional children, she said.

Anticipating that group of educators would also be affected, the school system held a meeting about a year ago "letting them know it probably was coming," Mrs. Durham said.

"We were one of the few school systems in North Carolina that moved ahead on this," said Marlee Ray, director of instructional support services. Because there were no specific mandates in place, though, the state Department of Public Instruction advised the school system to wait, she said.

Once the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act aligned its criteria with No Child Left Behind late last summer, the guidelines were put into place for teachers of exceptional children.

A survey was sent out to teachers in the fall and the data collected was tallied by the school system, Mrs. Durham said. It was then compared to the state guidelines and the Department of Public Instruction came back with a list of those considered highly qualified. A memo was then sent out advising teachers which category they fell into and what was required.

Mrs. Durham said there are several ways to become highly qualified:

*They must have passed a specialized test, formerly called the NTE, now the Praxis, in their specific EC area, such as mentally disabled or general curriculum.

*If they are considered the teacher of record, responsible for giving the child the grades, the teacher has to be highly qualified in that particular course area. Among the requirements are to have 24 hours of coursework in each area.

*Or they can go through an evaluation, where a trained evaluator comes in and evaluates the teacher's knowledge of a particular subject area through observation and specific artifacts, such as lesson plans, student work, courses from transcripts.

For those who have been teaching a long time, but didn't take either of the tests required, the school system will reimburse them for the cost of taking one test, if that is the option chosen, Mrs. Durham said.

She expects, though, that many will opt for the most recently added choice created by the state, the HOUSSE evaluation, which stands for High, Objective, Uniform State Standard of Evaluation. Not only is it free, but can be an option for lateral entry teachers and those with as little as six months' experience in the field.

"It's not going to give them a clear North Carolina state license, but it will make them highly qualified by federal mandates," Mrs. Durham explained.

The evaluations are designed to reflect how proficient the teacher is in whatever area he or she teaches, she said.

"If they have taught something for a period of time, they have that. Many just have to dig a little deeper to find it," she said.

The evaluator works one-on-one with each teacher, she said, and if something is found lacking in the process, they have more than one chance to do it.

"It's not like they have to do the whole thing over," she said. "Find the piece that's missing and we'll go back another time."

Mrs. Durham said her staff has worked from the outset to allay any fears and reassure teachers that they will receive every possible resource to meet the federal mandates.

"We have done several information sessions for teachers ... One of the things we're really working toward doing is ensure that this process gives us the information we need in the simplest format possible. We are not trying to have teachers go through extra, unnecessary work," said Ms. Ray.

"It will be time-consuming and it's going to be a process that we're going to have to go through. We realize that it's going to be an extra burden of time on teachers. I'm always reluctant to take any time away from instruction and classrooms. We're going to do everything we can to make this process as simple, efficient and smooth as we can."

A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at the administrative offices for teachers notified that they are not highly qualified, to walk them through the options such as the HOUSSE evaluation, Mrs. Durham said.

"I feel really good about going into this meeting. I feel like the teachers have been given enough background information of what was coming, that they're pretty much not happy but at least they are resigned to the fact that this was coming and they're going to have to do this," she said. "They have heard about No Child Left Behind for three or four years now. They realize it's a federal program and not a state or local mandate."

If past successes mean anything, Mrs. Durham said that teachers should be very confident about accomplishing the latest goal.

"We have worked with all of our teachers. Any that have done the HOUSSE evaluation process thus far have passed. We have a 100 percent passing rate. We're going to work with that," she said.