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APSU and state's educators wait to see changes caused by federal NCLB Act

April 29, 2003

The federal No Child Left Behind Act was passed last year, and the state continues to try to decipher its requirements.

For professors and administrators at Austin Peay, the compliance may mean adapting and changing the way teachers are educated to meet the acts demand for highly qualified teachers.

There are many ‘what ifs right now, said Dr. Carl Stedman, interim director of APSUs School of Education. It makes planning difficult.
April 29, 2003

The federal No Child Left Behind Act was passed last year, and the state continues to try to decipher its requirements.

For professors and administrators at Austin Peay, the compliance may mean adapting and changing the way teachers are educated to meet the act's demand for “highly qualified” teachers.

“There are many ‘what ifs' right now,” said Dr. Carl Stedman, interim director of APSU's School of Education. “It makes planning difficult.”

Stedman hopes this will be corrected when the final draft of the Tennessee Plan for Implementing the Teacher and Paraprofessional Quality Provisions of NCLB is sent to the State Board of Education for approval May 2.

The difficulty has been in trying to interpret the language of the act. It says there should be a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom by the end of the 2005-2006 school year. The term “highly qualified” must be interpreted for different populations of teachers in different ways. For example, the definition of “highly qualified” will vary for high school teachers, elementary teachers, middle school teachers, special education teachers and other groups.

“For middle school teachers, ‘highly qualified' apparently will be interpreted to mean 24 academic hours in each subject that the person teaches,” said Stedman.

Middle school is defined as grades seven and eight. It is less clear what it means for elementary and high school teachers, although secondary teachers probably will need an academic major in areas they teach. However, “major” may be interpreted to mean 24 academic hours in subject matter areas being taught by an individual.

There are other interpretations also. A teacher with a license from another state will be considered “highly qualified,” as will someone who passes a prescribed test in the academic area in question.

The problem, according to Stedman, has been that educators still don't know which grades will be included in the licensure and exactly what will be required. The state's draft of the implementation proposal will clarify some of this ambiguity. Teachers who do not meet the requirements in each subject may have to take additional courses or they may only have to pass a test. Or it could mean current teachers would not need anything additional if their students are scoring well on achievement tests.

“The greatest problem right now is uncertainty. The proposal, if passed by the State Board of Education, would improve clarity,” said Stedman. Part of the proposal indicates that a teacher declared “highly qualified” in one of the school systems in Tennessee would have that distinction across Tennessee school systems.

Educators all across Tennessee are waiting for the state board of education to interpret the requirements of the act. Administrators at Austin Peay also are waiting for the state's interpretation to know whether or not they will have to revise their education curriculum to graduate teachers who meet the requirements of the act.

“We will most likely have to change our ‘middle school licensure' once it is decided whether it will be grades 4-8 or grades 5-8 or whatever,” said Stedman. “We won't really know until the state officially decides what the parameters are.

“It's interesting to note that middle school is interpreted as grades seven and eight, but licensure areas typically include grades 5-8,” Stedman added.

The Tennessee Board of Regents has asked the University to cut the education program down to 120 hours. If the act is interpreted to require teachers at the secondary level, grades 7-12, to have an academic major for each subject they teach, the limit on program hours will be difficult for multiple licensure areas.

“If this were required, a student who wanted to teach more than one area, such as physics, chemistry and math, would need three academic majors,” said Stedman. “This couldn't possibly be completed in a degree program limited to 120 hours.”

Even with all the interpretation problems, Stedman says he thinks the NCLB Act is a step in the right direction for education reform.

“It may well be a starting point, a beginning for what will be a plan of action that will bring improvement,” said Stedman. “I hope the act will be a catalyst that takes us thorough a meaningful cycle of reform.”