State deciding definition of teacher

Posted: Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Alaska Board of Education and Early Development was scheduled Tuesday to take action on its definition of a "highly qualified teacher" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

But the Kenai Peninsula Bor-ough School District Board of Education already was working Monday to put that definition to action.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires that all teachers be "highly qualified" in the subjects they teach by 2006. However, it is up to individual states to determine how a teacher goes about proving that status.

Teachers in Alaska have been waiting for some time to find out just what they will have to do to prove their qualifications -- and to retain their jobs.

Though the state board was not scheduled to vote on the requirements for meeting "highly qualified" status until Tuesday, Assistant Superin-tendent Gary Whiteley, who has been working with the state on its NCLB compliance plan, helped outline the requirements for the local school board Monday afternoon, as he and Norma Holmgaard, director of small schools and alternative programs, provided board members with a NCLB update.

Holmgaard told board members that elementary school teachers will have to take the PRAXIS II, a nationwide standardized test for teachers. There are three versions of the PRAXIS II -- one dealing with assessment and two dealing with content -- and it will be up to teachers to decide which test to take.

Middle and high school teachers who have a bachelor's or master's degree in the subject they teach already are considered "highly qualified." Those with minors -- or at least 30 credit hours -- in the subject they teach also meet the standard. However, those who teach in subjects outside their degree areas also will have to take versions of the PRAXIS II, which focus on specific content areas for upper grades.

In big schools, where teachers frequently focus on just one subject, that's not hard, Holmgaard said. However, in smaller schools, where teachers may teach many subjects, certification may be harder.

She said the district is focusing on elementary school teachers this year and will turn to middle and high school teachers next year.

At present, the district has set aside about $100,000 in Title I money -- federal money granted to schools based on poverty levels -- to use for staff development, as the grant requires. That money will be used to reimburse employees for the cost of the test, as well as for practice test materials. It also will give teachers money to take a PRAXIS II preparatory class being developed by Kenai Peninsula College.

Holmgaard said she estimates that the certification process will cost the district about $150 per teacher. The $100,000 in Title I money should cover elementary teachers this year. However, other funding sources may be needed to help middle and high school teachers next year, she said.

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