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Some teachers don't meet federal standard

April 10, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

About 350 of the 1,474 teachers in Washington County public schools do not meet the federal No Child Left Behind act's requirements to be considered "highly qualified."

School systems across the country have until 2006 to get their teachers up to the federal act's highly qualified status, said Linda A. Fernandez, director of staff development and mentoring for the school system.

Title I schools, those that receive more state and federal funds based on poverty levels, had to meet that standard by last year, she said.

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"It's kind of like shooting at a really fast-moving target," Fernandez said.

She said the school system gets additional clarification on the highly qualified teacher mandate almost every week.

The federal No Child Left Behind act is designed to close the achievement gap between schools and make sure all students, including those in disadvantaged groups, are academically proficient.

According to the federal act, in order to be considered highly qualified, elementary school teachers have to be certified by the states in which they teach and, if certified before 1987, will have to take a state test, she said.

In addition to the state test, teachers certified before 1987 will have to take the PRAXIS I, a national content area test, Fernandez said.

Middle and high schools teachers have to be certified in the subjects they teach by the states in which they teach. If they do not have the certification to teach their subjects, they either need an undergraduate major in the subject, a graduate degree in the subject or to have taken the equivalent of the courses expected of an undergraduate major in the subject, Fernandez said.

Teachers who do not have an undergraduate major or the corresponding equivalents must pass the PRAXIS II, a basic skills test in the areas they teach.

The PRAXIS II for middle school teachers may prove difficult to pass, Fernandez said.

"It's going to go beyond what they're teaching in middle school," Fernandez said.

She said a middle school teacher of both math and science who has certification to teach grades 1 through 6 plus middle school would have to pass the PRAXIS II in both subjects or have the equivalent of an undergraduate major in both subjects.

Fernandez said she suspects teachers will be more willing to study and take the tests than they will be to return to school for additional studies.

"We have to bring them up to speed very quickly," she said.

Principals in middle and high schools are shuffling teachers around so they will be teaching subjects they're certified to teach, Fernandez said.

"We have really talented teachers not teaching in the area they're certified," she said.

When the No Child Left Behind act was passed, Title II federal funding, or funding set aside for improving teacher quality, was increased, she said. Fernandez said that money can be used for staff development or for hiring more teachers to reduce class size.

She said the school system received $929,188 in Title II funds for this year. Of that money, $312,000 was used for additional teachers to reduce class sizes and $616,000 was used for staff development. She said the school system is required to share Title II funding with nonpublic schools, which are not affected by the act's mandates.

The school system gave about $11,000 this year to those schools, she said.

"Whenever you look at federal funding you say 'thank you very much,' but you can't rely on it for your meat and potatoes," Fernandez said.

In the Washington County Board of Education's request to the Washington County Commissioners for this year, about $725,000 is to be used to improve teacher quality, Fernandez said. She said that number is a $425,000 increase over county and state grant funds from last year.

"Every piece of that is to make our teachers better teachers and our administrators better administrators," she said.

The School Board is asking for $7.1 million over the $70,142,854 the commissioners provided for this fiscal year's budget. In addition, it's asking for the same $876,584 it got in a state disparity grant for this year's budget.

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