The purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as amended in 2004, is to “ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.”
IDEA defines “highly qualified” special education teachers and requires all special education teachers to meet that definition. It also offers states some flexibility to work within their systems to meet the teacher requirement provisions of IDEA and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001.
In California all teachers of core academic subjects, including special education teachers, must demonstrate subject matter competence in each core academic subject taught as described in the 2007 NCLB Teacher Requirements Resource Guide (TRRG) (DOC). In addition, to be compliant with IDEA, all individuals who teach students with disabilities must hold the appropriate special education credential.
These FAQs represent a collaborative effort of staff within the California Department of Education (CDE), the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC), and the State Board of Education (SBE).
What are the types of special education personnel to whom the NCLB teacher requirements apply?
The NCLB applies to teachers with kindergarten through twelfth grade teaching credentials and assignments and does not apply to educators with birth through preschool assignments. It also does not affect such services assignments as speech and language therapy or orientation and mobility. Individuals assigned to provide instructional services and teach core academic subjects on the basis of holding the Special Class Authorization on a Clinical Rehabilitative Services Credential must also meet the NCLB teacher requirements.
Must special education teachers who teach core academic subjects meet the NCLB teacher requirements?
Yes. NCLB requires all teachers of core academic subjects, including special education teachers, to meet the NCLB teacher requirements.
What is the definition of an NCLB-compliant special education teacher for elementary, middle, and high school teachers?
All NCLB-compliant special education teachers must:
- Hold a bachelors degree.
- Hold a valid California special education credential or a valid CCTC Education Specialist Internship Credential for no more than three years.
A temporary certificate, Provisional Internship Permit, Short-Term Staff Permit, Emergency Permit, or credential waiver does not fulfill the requirement.
- Demonstrate subject matter competence in the core academic subjects taught.
What are the core academic subject areas?
The NCLB’s definition of core academic subjects is the same for teachers at all levels. NCLB defines core academic subject areas as English, reading/language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics/government, economics, arts, history, and geography. Elementary school teachers must demonstrate competence in reading, writing, mathematics, and other core academic subject areas of the elementary school curriculum.
What are the options for demonstrating competence in core academic subjects? Options for demonstrating subject matter competence vary, depending on whether a teacher is “new” or “not new” to the profession and teaches elementary or secondary curriculum. It is important to note that for IDEA and NCLB compliance, the July 1, 2002, date refers to when the teacher earned his or her first teaching credential.
Is a special education teacher who teaches core academic subjects required to demonstrate subject matter competence in each of the core academic subjects taught regardless of the instructional setting (e.g., learning center, resource specialist program, special day class, self-contained class, itinerant teacher, or rehabilitative program)?
Yes. The NCLB and IDEA teacher requirements apply whether a special education teacher provides instruction in a core academic subject in a regular classroom, a resource room, or any another setting. Whether the teacher provides instruction in the core academic subject is more important than the instructional setting. For related information see the question related to Consultation and Instructional Support.
Flexibility for Some Special Education Teachers
What is the flexibility allowed under IDEA for special education teachers who
teach two or more core academic subjects?
IDEA modifies the NCLB teacher requirements for special education teachers who:
- Are “new to the profession” (see the TRRG).
- Can demonstrate subject matter competence in English/language arts, mathematics, or science at or before the time of employment as a special education teacher (see the TRRG) and
- Teach two or more core academic subjects exclusively to students with disabilities.
Teachers who meet these criteria have “two years from the date of employment” to meet the requirements for demonstrating subject matter competence in the other core academic subjects taught, as determined through the use of the High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE) process. As defined by the final IDEA regulation, the phrase "date of employment" is interpreted to mean two years after employment as a special education teacher.
The final IDEA regulation (August 14, 2006) clarifies that a credentialed general education teacher who subsequently becomes a credentialed special education teacher is a “new” special education teacher when first hired as a special education teacher. To establish subject matter competence, that teacher may use this new flexibility under IDEA or the options available to any teacher.
The SBE adopted a new Title 5 regulation regarding this flexibility: Title 5, California Code of Regulations Section 6111(b). This flexibility is available only for “new” middle or high school special education teachers. California regulation does not permit elementary special education teachers to use the flexibility in IDEA.
What is the flexibility allowed under IDEA for special education teachers of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities?
This section of IDEA, 20 United States Code 1401(10)(c), describes flexibility for special education teachers who teach to alternate achievement standards. Special education teachers who exclusively teach students with the most significant cognitive disabilities may demonstrate “subject matter knowledge appropriate to the level of instruction being provided, as determined by the State, to effectively teach to those standards.”
The United States Department of Education discusses this requirement in the Federal Register, Vol. 71, No. 156, Monday, August 14, 2006, page 46558:
In short, we believe that the requirements in § 300.18(c) will ensure that teachers teaching exclusively children who are assessed against alternate achievement standards will have the knowledge to provide instruction aligned to grade-level content standards so that students with the most significant cognitive disabilities are taught a curriculum that is closely tied to the general curriculum.
California’s existing regulation, Title 5, California Code of Regulations Section 6100(d), allows a local educational agency to “determine, based on curriculum taught, by each grade or by each course, if appropriate, whether a course is elementary, middle or high school.”
For example, if middle and high school students with the most significant cognitive disabilities are taught to the alternate achievement standards and are assessed with the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) and if the local education agency (LEA) has designated that course as elementary for purposes of NCLB, then the teacher would use the options for elementary school teachers for verifying NCLB subject matter competence. (See the TRRG.)
Is additional flexibility allowed under IDEA for special education teachers who are “not new to the profession”?
No. Special education teachers “not new to the profession” must follow the same requirements as any other “not new to the profession” teacher as described in the TRRG.
Do special education teachers who do not teach any core academic subjects have to meet the subject matter competency requirement of NCLB?
No. However, California requires teachers of students with disabilities to hold an appropriate California special education credential whether or not the individual is teaching core academic subjects.
Consultation and Instructional Support
What instructional activities can be performed by a special education teacher who holds an appropriate teaching credential but has not established subject matter competence?
The instructional activities are:
- Reinforcing instruction that the student with disabilities has already received from a teacher who meets the NCLB teacher requirements
- Adapting curricula
- Using behavioral supports and interventions
- Selecting appropriate accommodations for students
- Assisting students with study skills or organizational skills
- Helping students adjust to the learning environment
- Modifying the instructional methods
Note: California requires teachers of students with disabilities to hold an appropriate California special education credential whether or not the individual is teaching core academic subject areas.
What is the timeline for all special education teachers to meet the teacher requirements of NCLB and IDEA 2004?
In general, NCLB requires that all teachers (special education and general education) meet the teacher requirements by the end of the 2005-06 school year. (See Section 1119(a)(2) of the NCLB.) On May 12, 2006, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) determined that California has shown a good-faith effort in meeting the teacher requirement goal and extended the timeline to June 30, 2007. Through IDEA the deadline is extended for those new middle and high school special education teachers who are eligible for the flexibility provision, i.e., for two years from the date of employment.
Are special education teachers in nonpublic schools (NPS) required to meet the credential requirements of IDEA and NCLB?
Yes, EC Section 56366.1(n) requires all teachers in nonpublic schools to meet the same credentialing requirements as those for public school teachers. This statement means that NPS special education teachers need to hold a valid California special education credential, a valid CCTC Education Specialist Internship Credential, or a Provisional Internship Permit, Short-Term Staff Permit, or other emergency permit authorizing service in the nonpublic school.
A nonpublic school is a private, nonsectarian school that contracts with an LEA to enroll students with disabilities in an individualized education program and is certified by the CDE. More NPS information is available on special education Nonpublic School Web page.
How will the NCLB and IDEA requirements for teachers be implemented in the NPS certification process and compliance reviews?
If an NPS employs special education teachers who do not hold appropriate certification as described above, the CDE may grant the NPS a "conditional" renewal certification after the NPS has submitted an action plan for becoming fully compliant.
The NPS action plan, which is developed in coordination with the NPS contracting local educational agency, describes the “measurable steps [taken] to recruit, hire, train, and retain highly qualified personnel” under IDEA, 20 USC 1412(a)(14)(D). The NPS is encouraged to coordinate the content of the action plan under IDEA with that of the contracting LEA and its respective LEA plan under NCLB. Both plans describe activities to recruit and train highly qualified teachers.
Note: The preceding guidance addresses only the California special education credential requirements of IDEA and NCLB.
Licensed Children's Institutions
Must teachers employed by an LEA that provides educational services to Licensed Children's Institutions (LCIs) meet the teacher requirements of NCLB and IDEA?
Yes. LCIs are group homes licensed by the state for wards of the state or adjudicated placements.
All teachers of core academic subjects employed by an LEA, agencies, or entities under the authority of the state educational agency (SEA) must meet the teacher requirements of NCLB and IDEA.
Do special education teachers who teach in charter schools have to meet the teacher requirements of NCLB and IDEA?
Yes. Special education teachers who teach in charter schools must hold an appropriate credential and meet subject matter competency in every core academic subject they teach. There is nothing in state law that would exempt special education teachers in a charter school from meeting these requirements.
Hiring Practices and Accountability
When local employing agencies are hiring new special education teachers, what is considered to be the best practice?
When recruiting an individual to provide special education services, the employing agency should focus on hiring the appropriately credentialed and best qualified and prepared special education personnel.
With regard to teachers already in the district, please note that nothing in the NCLB Act requires that teachers who have not yet demonstrated that they meet the NCLB teacher requirements be fired.
Please continue to check this site for the latest information on NCLB teacher requirements.
Each LEA must take “measurable steps toward recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining highly qualified personnel to provide special education and related services for students with disabilities” as required by the IDEA. These efforts should be incorporated within the overall LEA “improvement plan” to increase the percentage of NCLB and IDEA compliant teachers.
Will the LEA’s failure to hire an NCLB-compliant special education teacher follow the accountability provisions of NCLB or IDEA?
The implementation and enforcement of NCLB and IDEA complement each other.
The final federal IDEA regulations (August 14, 2006) describe the sharing of data between the state offices that implement these two laws, preventing LEAs from being punished twice for the same infraction. The California Monitoring, Intervention, and Sanctions (CMIS) Program is the primary source of technical assistance and monitoring for the teacher requirements of NCLB and IDEA.
Is any professional development support available to help special education teachers meet the NCLB and IDEA teacher requirements?
Yes. The primary purpose of NCLB, Title II, Part A funds is to assist all teachers, including those in special education, to meet the NCLB and IDEA teacher requirements by the end of the 2006-07 school year. In addition, Title I requires a set-aside of between 5 and 10 percent of LEA funds to address non-NCLB compliance. It is important to consult with the school district’s categorical programs director to discuss how these monies may be accessed.
Do paraprofessionals need to meet the NCLB requirements if they are working with three-through twenty-two-year-old students who have severe disabilities and who function at a preacademic level?
No. If instruction is not in a core academic subject area and is primarily for personal care and life skills, the paraprofessional does not need to meet the NCLB paraprofessional requirements. Those requirements apply only to the paraprofessionals assisting in instruction in Title I programs. The requirements apply to those paid by Title I in a Targeted Assistance program and to all, including special education paraprofessionals, in Schoolwide Title I schools. The IDEA, as amended in 2004, allows paraprofessionals who are appropriately trained and supervised, in accordance with state law, regulation, or written policy, to be used to assist in the provision of special education and related services for children with disabilities.
California delegates the responsibility for special education paraprofessional standards, training, and supervision to the special education local plan area (SELPA).
Note: See the federal IDEA statute and federal regulations at 20 USC 1401(10)(A-F) Definitions - Highly Qualified, 34 CFR 300.18, and 1412(a)(14) Personnel Qualifications, 34 CFR 300.156.
Improving Teacher and Principal Quality
California's plan to implement NCLB Title II, Part A regulations/requirements for preparing and recruiting high quality teachers and principals.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Links to important references and resources on the Reauthorization of IDEA.
Highly Qualified Teachers Improving Teacher Quality , State Grants, ESEA Title II, Part A, Non-Regulatory Guidance, August 3, 2005, A-30 -35, A-38, A-42.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Amended in 2004, sections 1401(10)(A-F), Definition of Highly Qualified for Special Education Teachers.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as Amended in 2004, Section 1412(a)(14):