requirements forcing teachers, states to scramble
'Highly qualified' rule set for 2006 by U.S. creates
by Tricia Bishop, Baltimore Sun, July 14, 2003
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After 27 years
of working as an elementary school instructional assistant,
Sharon Fischer just got word that she is qualified to do her
But she had to take a test to prove it.
"It's a slap in the face," said Fischer, who helps in
kindergarten classes at William Winchester Elementary in
"For nearly 30 years I've been doing this and getting wonderful
evaluations and presenting at workshops and colleges here in
town," she said. "And now, all of a sudden, I'm thought of as
not being able to do the job that I love."
Fischer is one of thousands of incumbent instructional
assistants and teachers across the country grappling with
requirements that say educators must be "highly qualified" by
2006 to keep their jobs.
The rules are part of the latest reauthorization of the federal
Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as No Child Left
Nearly everyone - parents and educators alike - acknowledges
that the concept is a good one. But the lack of clarity and
official means to prove one's qualification has frightened many
who say they don't know whether they have to go back to school
to meet the demands, take tests to prove competency or simply
sit tight and wait to be told they're fine.
And time keeps ticking toward the deadline.
"The biggest challenge we're all facing right now is waiting for
state guidelines to come out so we know where to go as a next
step," said Kirk Thompson, a school system human resources
manager in Howard County.
States have been trying to interpret the requirement, signed
into law Jan. 8 last year, to specify what "highly qualified"
Maryland is just now starting to enact its ideas, adopting exams
last month that will give some teachers and instructional
assistants paths to proving acceptable ability.
The state also has promised to bring an alternate process,
called a HOUSSE, before the Maryland Board of Education for a
vote this month. If adopted, the HOUSSE - which stands for high,
objective, uniform state standard of evaluation - will give
teachers credit for career achievements.
"What we're trying to do is be consistent with the law, but yet
give teachers multiple options for demonstrating competency,"
said state schools Assistant Superintendent Lawrence E. Leak,
who oversees Maryland's division of certification and
Leak and a team of others have spent the past few months
"building a HOUSSE," based on a point system that incumbent
teachers can use to determine their level of qualification.
The HOUSSE gives value to the years of experience many teachers
have and assigns points for time served, college credits,
publication in professional journals, teaching in
higher-education settings and serving as mentors, among other
The federal requirements state that incumbent elementary school
teachers delivering core-content education - such as math,
science and English - must have at least a bachelor's degree and
either pass a test that demonstrates their skill in the subjects
they teach or meet a competency equivalent such as the HOUSSE.
Middle and secondary school teachers have the same options to
prove qualification, but they can substitute an advanced degree
or certification for the HOUSSE or skills test. New teachers
don't have the HOUSSE option.
Requirements for instructional assistants apply only to those
working in Title I schools, which receive extra funds to help
disadvantaged students. Those workers must have two years of
higher education or pass a skills test such as the ParaPro,
which Fischer took as part of the pilot run to test the exam's
ParaPro will be available to other instructional assistants Aug.
The state would like to avoid such competency equivalencies
altogether, though, by revamping its teacher certifications.
"We're trying to quickly align the certification process so
there is no difference between certification and 'highly
qualified,'" Leak said.
Elementary education certification has been in alignment with
the requirements contained in No Child Left Behind since 1987,
and new tests adopted last month will help establish specialties
for the many middle school teachers certified as kindergarten
through eighth-grade teachers.
"One large area of concern is our middle school teachers," said
Lin B. Blackman, director of human resources for the Anne
Arundel County public school system. "Fifty percent of them are
elementary certified, which makes them essentially generalists,
and No Child Left Behind requires a content concentration."
Middle school teachers in that situation, elementary school
teachers certified before 1987 and teachers working outside
their fields - which includes special-education instructors who
teach core content - are at the highest risk of being labeled
Blackman said Anne Arundel, like many school districts, has
entered partnerships with local colleges and universities to
offer low-cost coursework and develop in-house seminars to
prepare teachers and instructional assistants for the tests they
might need to pass - tests that trouble some.
"They say, 'Here's the test. If you pass this test, you can keep
your job. If you fail this test, you have just lost your job,'"
said Joseph R. Staub Jr., president of Howard County's teachers
union. "That's my definition of high-stakes testing."
Staub, along with many others, said the tests don't demonstrate
an educator's most important quality: teaching ability.
"It's as though anyone who understands math can teach math
without necessarily understanding the students and how they
learn and grow and develop," said Patricia Foerster, president
of the Maryland State Teachers Association and a longtime
Baltimore County educator.
"We believe that is a very inappropriate way to think about the
education of pre-[kindergarten] to [12th-grade] students."
Foerster said there are good elements of the requirement,
particularly the ability Maryland will give teachers to add
endorsements, or specialties, to their certification so they can
increase their options.
She also said anything the legislation does to reduce the number
of teachers forced to teach outside their field will be greatly
But Cathy G. Cerveny, the 1997 Maryland Teacher of the Year,
worries that the legislation will erode the dwindling ranks of
"I'm really concerned. I think they made a mistake, and they
need to address it," said Cerveny, who has taught for nearly 30
years in Baltimore County. "It's hard to keep young people in
teaching because this is hard work, and the [federal
requirement] just makes it harder."
Cerveny also fears that older teachers and instructional
assistants will retire rather than spend the money and time it
would take to earn the required credentials.
But Carroll County's Fischer dismissed that idea the minute she
found out she officially passed the pilot ParaPro.
"I'm highly qualified now," she said with a laugh. "I finally
made it. It took me 27 years."
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