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"Highly Qualified" Appeals Lawsuit Tossed


Perhaps no one but Teach For America will care about this, but a district court last week threw out an appeal in the Renee v. Spellings lawsuit over the "highly qualified" teacher provisions in the No Child Left Behind Law.

The law requires teachers to be fully certified to be deemed highly qualified, but the U.S. Department of Education's subsequent regulations allowed teachers in alternative-certification programs to be deemed highly qualified if they were making progress in their program and were on track to hold a teaching certificate within three years. A California group sued ED, lost the first round, and appealed.

The court dismissed the appeal mostly on procedural grounds, with ED arguing that the issue isn't "redressable," since California would likely just change its own definition to incorporate these teachers if the federal regulations were rendered invalid.

The brief is worth reading, though, for the dissenting opinion, which examines arguments that teachers in alternative routes are often concentrated in high-poverty, high-minority schools. That's probably true and it's a problem if the alternative routes in question aren't of high quality. But as a lot of studies are pointing out these days, paper qualifications and the various routes teachers take into the profession are not always very strong predictors of how well teachers are going to do in the classroom.

Now, the federal government is pushing states to be more serious about figuring out how to identify effective teachers and to home in on what attributes make for successful teacher preparation.


Alternative routes to teacher certification should involve less rules, testing and pedagogy. It should rely more on common sense, fairness and latitude.

If you know in your heart that the teacher can teach and the students learn, then let them teach.

Actually almost all teachers know who the highly successful teachers are at their schools, but no one ever asks for their opinions.

When I was a reading specialist I often went into classrooms to assess children in the fall and then repeated this in the spring. The students of certain teachers made phenomenal progress while the students of other teachers made less progress or even (rarely) no progress at all. This could be supported by informal reading inventories, writing samples and other tests designed to measure student progress. It was extremely important to find out the child's instructional level in September.

The problem with state standardized tests is that many are not designed to measure student progress during one academic year. They are designed to compare populations across the nation. Also, even when they are designed to measure progress, there is virtually no security around these tests. This means that many sit in teachers' classrooms for a week or more. The teacher usually administers this test, often without a proctor and then sends them to the principal's office to be "checked." Older versions of the test often have some of the exact items on them and teachers are free to use these as "practice tests." Imagine a similar situation with the SAT!

If teachers are to be evaluated on the basis of test scores, these tests will have to be designed to do that and they will have to be carefully administered and corrected. (e.g. no more peeking at the test beforehand or drilling children on specific test items.)

Yes, I believe tests can show how effective a teacher is, but these tests will need to be sophisticated and expensive. They will have to be valid and reliable. Anything less will be vigorously contested in court and will cost tons of money for the taxpayers.

re: Testing as a measure of teacher effectiveness;

Here in Vermont, student performance is of no consequence to the student. Absent an incentive to perform at his/her highest level, these tests can not claim to assess the level of learning, let alone the quality of teaching.

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