Ed_banner_left Ed_banner_right
U.S. Department of Education: Promoting Educational Excellence for all Americans

Requirements for highly qualified special education teachers teaching to alternate achievement standards (Sec. 300.18(c))

Comment: One commenter recommended replacing "alternate achievement standards" with "alternate standards." A few commenters requested including a definition of alternate achievement standards in the regulations.

Discussion: "Alternate achievement standards" is statutory language and, therefore, it would be inappropriate to change "alternate achievement standards" to "alternate standards."

For the reasons set forth earlier in this notice, we are not adding definitions from other statutes to these regulations. However, we will include the current description of alternate achievement standards in 34 CFR 200.1(d) of the ESEA regulations here for reference.

For children under section 602(3) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act with the most significant cognitive disabilities who take an alternate assessment, a State may, through a documented and validated standards-setting process, define alternate academic achievement standards, provided those standards--

(1) Are aligned with the State's academic content standards;

(2) Promote access to the general curriculum; and

(3) Reflect professional judgment of the highest achievement standards possible.

Changes: None.

Comment: Several commenters expressed concern with allowing high school students with significant cognitive disabilities to be taught by a certified elementary school teacher. One commenter stated that high school students with disabilities should be prepared to lead productive adult lives, and not be treated as young children. Another commenter stated that these requirements foster low expectations for children with the most significant cognitive disabilities and will be used to justify providing children with instruction that is not age appropriate or that denies access to the general education curriculum. A few commenters stated that the requirements for special education teachers teaching to alternate achievement standards should be the same as the requirements for all special education teachers.

Some commenters recommended requiring teachers who teach to alternate achievement standards to have subject matter knowledge to provide instruction aligned to the academic content standards for the grade level in which the student is enrolled. One commenter recommended requiring any special education teacher teaching to alternate achievement standards to demonstrate knowledge of age-appropriate core curriculum content to ensure children with disabilities are taught a curriculum that is closely tied to the general education curriculum taught to other children of the same age.

Discussion: The regulations promulgated under section 1111(b)(1) of the ESEA permit States to use alternate achievement standards to evaluate the performance of a small group of children with the most significant cognitive disabilities who are not expected to meet grade-level standards even with the best instruction. An alternate achievement standard sets an expectation of performance that differs in complexity from a grade-level achievement standard. Section 602(10)(C)(ii) of the Act, therefore, allows special education teachers teaching exclusively children who are assessed against alternate achievement standards to meet the highly qualified teacher standards that apply to elementary school teachers. In the case of instruction above the elementary level, the teacher must have subject matter knowledge appropriate to the level of instruction being provided, as determined by the State, in order to effectively teach to those standards.

We do not agree that allowing middle and high school students with the most significant cognitive disabilities to be taught by teachers who meet the qualifications of a highly qualified elementary teacher fosters low expectations, encourages students to be treated like children, promotes instruction that is not age appropriate, or denies students access to the general curriculum. Although alternate achievement standards differ in complexity from grade-level standards, 34 CFR 200.1(d) requires that alternate achievement standards be aligned with the State's content standards, promote access to the general curriculum, and reflect professional judgment of the highest achievement standards possible. In short, we believe that the requirements in Sec. 300.18(c) will ensure that teachers teaching exclusively children who are assessed against alternate achievement standards will have the knowledge to provide instruction aligned to grade-level content standards so that students with the most significant cognitive disabilities are taught a curriculum that is closely tied to the general curriculum.

Changes: None.

Comment: A few commenters requested clarification regarding the meaning of "subject matter knowledge appropriate to the level of instruction provided" in Sec. 300.18(c)(2).

Discussion: Section 300.18(c)(2) requires that if a teacher (who is teaching exclusively to alternate achievement standards) is teaching students who need instruction above the elementary school level, the teacher must have subject matter knowledge appropriate to the level of instruction needed to effectively teach to those standards. The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that teachers exclusively teaching children who are assessed based on alternate academic achievement standards above the elementary level have sufficient subject matter knowledge to effectively instruct in each of the core academic subjects being taught, at the level of difficulty being taught. For example, if a high school student (determined by the IEP Team to be assessed against alternate achievement standards) has knowledge and skills in math at the 7th grade level, but in all other areas functions at the elementary level, the teacher would need to have knowledge in 7th grade math in order to effectively teach the student to meet the 7th grade math standards. No further clarification is necessary.

Changes: None.

Comment: A few commenters recommended that the regulations include requirements for teachers who provide instruction to children assessed against modified achievement standards. Several commenters stated that the requirements for teachers teaching children assessed against modified achievement standards should be the same for teachers teaching children assessed against alternate achievement standards.

Discussion: The Department has not issued final regulations addressing modified achievement standards and the specific criteria for determining which children with disabilities should be assessed based on modified achievement standards. As proposed, the modified achievement standards must be aligned with the State's academic content standards for the grade in which the student is enrolled and provide access to the grade-level curriculum. For this reason, we see no need for a further exception to the "highly qualified teacher" provisions at this time.

Changes: None.