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A First: New Mexico Nabs Waiver from 'Highly Qualified' Teacher Requirements

By Lauren Camera and Stephen Sawchuk

The U.S. Department of Education will allow New Mexico to use results from its teacher-evaluation system to count towards meeting the goal in the No Child Left Behind Act of staffing all core-content classes with a "highly qualified" teacher.

The move marks the first time the department has ever granted a state waiver from the HQT provisions. It also opens the door to a multitude of questions about states' teacher-distribution plans, which are due next month.

Under the waiver, New Mexico will be able to count a teacher who received a rating of "effective," "highly effective," or "exemplary" on his or her evaluation as highly qualified under the law.

The biggest change from the current law is that veteran teachers deemed effective or better would not have to demonstrate subject-matter competency via the state procedures known as the HOUSSE. (It has historically been somewhat burdensome for teachers of multiple subjects—English and history, for instance—to earn highly qualified status in all of them.)

In the waiver approval letter, assistant secretary Deborah S. Delisle said that the additional flexibility will enable the state and its local school districts to emphasize the impact of teachers on student outcomes as a primary focus of staffing and teacher development. Additionally, for small school districts, the loosening of the definition will allow them to increase the number of courses they can offer, she said.

"I believe this waiver will increase the quality of instruction and improve the academic achievement of students by focusing on a teacher's effectiveness in impacting student outcomes," Delisle wrote.

The added flexibility does come with some strings.  Each school and school district must publicly report the total number of teachers that are consider "highly qualified" under the new, expanded definition, and school districts must report the number of teachers who maintained the rating of effective or better after the first year of using the new definition.

The state education department must also provide a list of school districts taking advantage of the new definition as well as a breakdown of the number of teachers using the new flexibility in various categories, including special education and STEM.

In 2012-13, New Mexico reported that 98.6 percent of its core content classes were being taught by a highly qualified teacher.

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