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

Special education teachers teaching to alternate achievement standards

Section 9101 of the ESEA requires that teachers of a core academic subject have full State teacher certification, hold at least a bachelor's degree, and be able to demonstrate knowledge of the subject matter they teach. Elementary- level teachers may demonstrate subject matter expertise by passing a rigorous State test of their subject knowledge and teaching skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and other areas of the basic elementary school curriculum, but middle or secondary school teachers must demonstrate a high level of competence in each of the academic subjects that they teach.

Section 300.18(c) permits special education teachers who teach core academic subjects exclusively to children who are assessed against the alternate achievement standards, established under 34 CFR 200.1(d), to fulfill the highly qualified teacher requirements in section 9101(23)(B) or (C) of the ESEA as applied to an elementary school teacher, or, in the case of instruction above the elementary level, to meet the requirements in section 9101(23)(B) or (C) for an elementary school teacher and have subject matter knowledge appropriate to the level of instruction being provided, as determined by the State, needed to effectively teach to those standards.

The cost of demonstrating subject area competence depends on the number of special education teachers who teach core academic subjects exclusively to children assessed against alternate achievement standards, the number of these teachers who already would be considered highly qualified under section 9101(23) of the ESEA and the number who would not, and the cost of helping special education teachers who are not highly qualified meet the highly qualified teacher requirements for teaching core academic subjects at the middle and high school levels (or replacing them with highly qualified teachers). The final regulations will generate savings for public agencies to the extent that the cost of helping teachers demonstrate subject area competence at the elementary level and obtain the knowledge appropriate to the level of instruction needed to teach to alternate achievement standards is lower than the cost of demonstrating subject matter competence at the level (middle or high school) at which they are teaching.

Under 34 CFR 200.1(d), States are permitted to assess up to one percent of students against alternate achievement standards. Based on estimated 2005-2006 school enrollment data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), States could assess up to 257,650 students in the middle and secondary levels (grades 6-12) against alternate achievement standards. Based on a typical ratio of one teacher for every six students for instruction based on alternate achievement standards, as many as 43,000 special education teachers would be eligible to demonstrate that they fulfill the requirements for highly qualified teachers in section 9101 of the ESEA by demonstrating subject matter knowledge appropriate to the level of instruction being provided instead of the student's grade level. The number of affected teachers would depend on the extent to which these special education teachers are teaching exclusively children assessed against alternate achievement standards.

Although it is difficult to estimate the savings from these final regulations, the Secretary expects some savings to be produced because affected special education teachers are not required to demonstrate the same level of content knowledge as other middle and high school teachers of core academic subjects, thereby reducing the amount of additional coursework or professional development that is needed to meet State standards. The savings depend on the gap between what State standards require in terms of content knowledge for middle and high school teachers in various academic areas and what the affected teachers are able to demonstrate in the academic subjects they are teaching. Any savings will be offset in part by the cost of developing a means for the affected teachers to demonstrate subject matter knowledge appropriate to the level of instruction being provided. However, this cost is not expected to be significant. On balance, the Secretary concludes that the final regulations could produce significant savings without adversely affecting the quality of instruction provided to children assessed against alternate achievement standards.