What Every Educator Needs to Know about IDEA

Article excerpt

Over the past several years, legislation has changed the entire field of education, particularly public education. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB) and the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) are creating new challenges for public schools across the country.

Two concepts especially important to public school programs for the deaf and hard of hearing are new qualifications for "highly qualified teachers" and "adequate yearly progress" or AYP, which includes assessment and progress monitoring.

Both pieces of legislation are creating a great deal of anxiety among regular and special educators and administrators, in part, because their full impact is not yet understood. IDEA has taken key components from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and further defined them; however, additional definitions of the IDEA will be forthcoming when the federal government publishes its proposed regulations in July 2005. States also may issue regulations governing the field of special education, which are sometimes more restrictive than the federal regulations.

Defining the Teacher

The term "highly qualified" has received an overwhelming amount of analysis. Although the term is being addressed as it relates to special educators, there will almost certainly be specific implications for teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing. Currently explanations of what this legislation will mean for those who teach children with low incidence disabilities do not exist. For example, what combination of skills, education and attributes make an educator "highly qualified" to teach students who are deaf or hard of hearing? More specifically, who has the knowledge of language and literacy acquisition, communication methodology for children with hearing loss, and the available technologies that provide access to the general education curriculum within the public school setting?

Each state will need to create its own criteria for "highly qualified teachers." Pennsylvania, for example, has done so through its state certification board. To earn this "highly qualified" designation, special education teachers will need to have earned at least a bachelor's degree and state certification or licensure, and have not had requirements waived per the standards set by IDEA 2004. At the secondary level, special education teachers will also need to be certified in core academic subjects they are teaching, and elementary level special educators will also need to be certified to teach the elementary grades (IDEA 2004). How does this pertain to teachers of the deaf who may, and indeed should, have a different set of skills and a different job description than a special education teacher? Language in both the IDEA 1997 and IDEA 2004 speaks to consideration of special factors. "In the case of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, consider the child's language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communications with peers and professionals, academic level and full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child's language and communication mode" (IDEA 2004). Clearly, there is a need for clarification of "highly qualified" when addressing the delivery of an appropriate education to students with hearing loss.

In Pennsylvania, the teacher of the deaf is defined as one who provides "educational services for infants, children or adults with hearing impairments which adversely affect one's educational performance, and provides a program that prepares individuals to teach such students." (PA CSPG No. 62, Instructional Area Code 9205, 7/1/04) Presently, a person holding a valid Pennsylvania certificate is qualified to teach all subjects from nursery school through 12th grade. A certified or licensed teacher of the deaf is then qualified to:

* Assess and teach deaf and hard of hearing students.

* Develop individualized education programs. …