Borough working to improve

Posted: Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is no exception in Alaska's shortage of "highly qualified" teachers, but district officials insist they are working to remedy the problem.

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Gary Whiteley said Tuesday that the district understands the need to meet the letter of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

However, he added, just because some teachers currently lack "highly qualified" credentials under the law does not mean they are incompetent.

"We're confident our teachers do a good job," Whiteley said. "This certainly is an additional thing we have to do to demonstrate competency, but we want to assure the public this is a federal definition of what's 'highly qualified.'"

The federal law requires that each teacher hold a bachelor's degree in each subject he or she teachers or pass tests to demonstrate knowledge of those subjects. Individual states, however, are responsible for defining just what tests are necessary to demonstrate that knowledge.

In Alaska, lawmakers have determined that all teachers must take the PRAXIS, a national standardized test, to show their expertise in the subjects they teach, Whiteley explained.

However, the state has yet to determine just what score qualifies as "passing."

The state board of education is set to take action on that in December, Whiteley said.

In the meantime, that means teachers do not have a way to prove they are "highly qualified."

At present, all elementary school teachers in the district lack "highly qualified" status, even those with a four-year degree in elementary education, Whiteley said. Mostly, that's because of the lack of a cut score for the PRAXIS.

"Even if they took the test, they wouldn't know if they passed," Whiteley said.

The same likely is true of secondary school teachers in the district who will have to take subject-specific versions of the PRAXIS for certification in each subject they teach. Specific data on current middle and high school teachers in the district won't be available until next week, though.

Whiteley said the district is working with the state to move forward on the requirements for "highly qualified" status and plans to work with teachers, as well.

The district will pay for most teachers to take the PRAXIS and will provide tutorials for its employees.

"Realizing this is a pretty big curve ball thrown at our teachers, we feel we need to give some assistance," he said.

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