What ESSA means for highly qualified teacher rules in NJ

Do you hold the previously issued “N-8 elementary” or “teacher of the handicapped” New Jersey instructional teaching license? Then you should pay special attention to the changes in federal law authorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The act, which amended and reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), eliminated the overarching federal “Highly Qualified Teacher” (HQT) criteria and restored state certification requirements as the authority for which subjects and grades teachers can teach.

The federal law had effectively narrowed the scope of several teaching certificates by requiring subject-specific majors, degrees, certificates, or other proof of subject knowledge in order to teach core subjects in departmentalized middle grades or in high school.

In New Jersey, this most affected:

  • Elementary teachers holding nursery through grade eight (N-8) elementary certificate endorsements who were teaching one or two subjects in middle grades.
  • “Teacher of the Handicapped” (TOH) endorsement holders, whose teaching license had authorized them to teach any subject to special education students at any grade level.
  • “Teacher of Blind or Partially Sighted” and “Teacher of Deaf or Hard of Hearing” endorsement holders who had been authorized to teach all subjects to students with those disabilities at all grade levels.

As a result of ESSA, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) issued an advisory to school districts on March 29 and again on April 5 alerting them that, effective immediately, the “Highly Qualified Teacher” (HQT) provision was eliminated.

Consequently, individuals can be assigned to teach any grade or subject that their teaching certificate authorizes them to teach.

This again opens up the assignment possibilities for those holding N-8 (with limits for teaching preschool outlined below), TOH, and Teachers of Blind or Deaf instructional certificate endorsements. This does not affect assignment of individuals who hold the K-6 elementary or the Teacher of Student with Disabilities endorsements.

As a result of state regulations passed in 2006, N-8 certified teachers whose endorsements were issued by March 1, 2008, must have the equivalent of two academic years of full-time experience teaching three- and four-year-olds under their certificates in order to teach preschool in a public school or Department of

Children and Families facility. The district or DCF facility must retain documentation of the teacher’s preschool teaching experience.

Retain your HQT paperwork

This development doesn’t mean any teacher should throw out his or her “highly qualified” paperwork. In fact, retaining that material is still important.

The NJDOE is urging school districts to continue to use the HQT matrix in assigning educators “to ensure that contentqualified teachers are in place to support student achievement.”

So while the HQT is no longer required, school districts still have the right to assign teaching staff members within the scope of each individual’s certificates, including grade level and—if in departmentalized middle school settings or high school settings in the case of the teacher of the handicapped—the content he or she should teach.

NJEA advises every educator to make sure that he or she retains a copy of all “highly qualified” documentation with other important documents related to his or her employment and career.

NJEA and the NJDOE are still reviewing the amended federal law to determine how changes in the “highly qualified paraprofessional” requirements will affect employees in New Jersey who are covered under that provision.

NJEA advises all affected members holding such positions in public school classrooms and libraries also to retain proof of their “highly qualified” status.

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