- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

RICHMOND — Virginia is considering proposals that would toughen competency standards for teachers, including requiring new high school instructors to have majored in or have a graduate degree in the subject area they teach.

Another option proposed by the state Department of Education would include a requirement that new teachers pass a rigorous standardized exam in the high school subject they teach.

The proposals were presented Wednesday in response to a directive by the U.S. Department of Education, which determined that Virginia’s standards for highly qualified teachers, especially for those who teach special-education students, are too relaxed.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind education law, all classes must be taught by educators who have a bachelor’s degree, a teaching license and can demonstrate knowledge in their subject area.

“The data on classes taught by highly qualified teachers that the [Virginia Department of Education] submitted for the 2004-2005 school year are not accurate,” Henry Johnson, the federal education department’s assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, said in a letter last month to state education officials.

No state met the June 30 deadline for getting all its teachers to the highly qualified standard, and Virginia and five other states received a warning letter.

The state Department of Education has until Dec. 29 to address the problems, said Thomas A. Elliott, assistant superintendent for teacher education, licensure and professional practice. If it doesn’t, the state risks losing about $2.1 million in federal funding.

“We believe that we have made, and continue to make, good-faith efforts in reaching the goal of having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom,” said Julie Grimes, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

At issue is how Virginia determines whether teachers are competent in the subjects they teach.

The state considers veteran teachers highly qualified if they have at least a master’s degree in any field, but the federal Department of Education wants them to have advanced degrees in the subjects they teach.

The state also allows high school special-education teachers to take subject-knowledge tests designed for teachers who work with middle-school students.

The proposed measures would allow new special-ed teachers to pass the middle-school-level standardized exam if they teach “the small population of students” who aren’t aiming for a standard diploma, Mr. Elliott said.

The proposals also would allow all existing elementary, middle and high school teachers to become highly qualified by completing at least a master’s degree in the subjects that they teach.

Princess Moss, president of the Virginia Education Association, said the 62,000-member teachers’ organization opposes the federal directives. She said Virginia “must now jump through even more hoops that have nothing to do with being highly qualified.”

Miss Moss said at the board meeting that the federal Department of Education discounts the value of master’s degrees in other areas such as special-ed instruction.

“I wonder how my own school division, Louisa County, will react when it is announced that the master’s degree in curriculum and instruction that the school system funded won’t count toward highly qualified status,” she said.

The board is considering asking for a survey of school divisions to determine how many teachers the proposed changes would affect.

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