New Mexico gets waiver on teacher requirements

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – The U.S. Department of Education will give New Mexico a waiver on requiring all classrooms have a “highly qualified” teacher as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law, state officials announced late Tuesday.

The New Mexico Public Education Department said that waiver will give state officials more flexibility to teacher qualification restrictions and help rural school districts with limited resources meet overall federal guidelines.

In a letter to state officials, U.S. Education Department Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle said the waiver would allow the state Public Education Department to use the term “highly qualified teacher” to refer to a teacher who receives an “effective,” ”highly effective” and “exemplary” rating based on New Mexico’s new teacher evaluation system.

No Child Left Behind defines “highly qualified” as obtaining full state certification and not having “certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary or provisional basis.”

“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 teacher waiver is believed to be one of the first of its kind given to a state under No Child Left Behind.

Under the current federal law, a “highly qualified” physics teacher who is rated highly effective with a strong record of student achievement growth cannot teach an algebra course. That teacher would first have to become “highly qualified” in math.

The waiver, requested by New Mexico, allows school districts to replace credentials with demonstrated effectiveness. State officials say that physics teacher can now teach math.

Education Secretary Hanna Skandera called the waiver “a big win for New Mexico’s students” and a called it a common-sense approach for the state’s smaller districts.

“This is not about an art teacher teaching physics,” Skandera said. “It allows us to base our decisions at the local level.”

Skandera said New Mexico was able to get the waiver thanks to its new teacher evaluation system that generated data the U.S. Education Department needed to make its decision.

State officials said last week nearly 74 percent of New Mexico’s teachers rated “effective” or better this year based on the 2-year-old evaluation system that takes into account student achievement.

Around 24 percent were graded “highly effective” and around 2.5 percent were rated “exemplary” – both small jumps from 2014.

Under the state teacher evaluation system, district and charter schools develop their own evaluation plans but must use student achievement to count for 50 percent of evaluations if a teacher has three years’ worth of student data on growth. After factoring classroom observation, districts can use surveys or attendance in plans.

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