Sunday, November 22, 2009

30,000 Texas teachers may lack credentials

TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
Thursday, October 22, 2009

AUSTIN – As many as 30,000 Texas teachers hired this year may have to take a competency test to keep their jobs under revised federal requirements for classifying educators as "highly qualified."

In a letter to school superintendents this week, the Texas Education Agency warned that the U.S. Department of Education has cited the state for not requiring new teachers – primarily in elementary grades – to take a "generalist" exam testing knowledge in reading, math, writing, science and social studies.

Most new teachers hired this year passed only a certification exam in a specific subject. The state has always held that to be sufficient to license a teacher.

Debbie Ratcliffe, an agency spokeswoman, said as many as 30,000 new teachers this year could be affected by the new federal interpretation of a highly qualified teacher under the No Child Left Behind law.

The ruling would affect not only reporting by school districts on their teacher ranks, but also require districts to send out notification to all affected parents, advising them that their child is being taught by a teacher not deemed "highly qualified."

In addition, federal Title I funds for disadvantaged students, which most schools in Texas receive, could not be used to pay the salaries of teachers who don't meet the federal standards.

"While changes to affected elementary schoolteachers' highly qualified status are not being required by the agency at this time, there may be little or no flexibility" allowed by the Department of Education, wrote Gene Lenz, the state's deputy associate education commissioner in the advisory to districts.

To give teachers and campuses as much time as possible to meet the requirements, school districts "may choose to be proactive and begin taking steps to come into compliance with the new interpretation," he said.

TEA officials emphasized that it is "in no way" their intent that affected teachers be laid off because of the new federal interpretation.

Ratcliffe said the agency is continuing discussions with the Education Department in hopes of getting some relief. She noted that federal officials agreed that teachers who took only a subject area certification exam in previous years will continue to be considered highly qualified as long as they remain in the same teaching assignment.

"We hope we can resolve this issue favorably," she said. But if there is no compromise, teachers will probably be required to pass a general competency exam to retain their highly qualified standing.

Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association said his group is closely monitoring the situation and is convinced that no drastic changes will occur this late in the year. But requiring teachers to take another test would be unfair, he said.

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