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“Highly Qualified” Certification Questions and Answers Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Updated August 1, 2018

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) eliminated the Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) requirements beginning with the 2016-17 school year. However, Pennsylvania certification and staffing policies, statutes, and regulations remain in effect, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is required to ensure that all teachers and paraprofessionals in schools receiving federal funding fulfill state certification and licensure requirements. Consequently, the data elements that informed HQT calculations, such as course and faculty listings tied to student rosters, will continue to be utilized for both federal and state purposes. Local education agencies (LEAs) must continue reporting PIMS data elements associated with HQT; this will allow PDE to avoid making multiple revisions to data collection requirements in the future. 

This document provides LEAs with guidance that will ensure appropriate staffing assignments are made as a result of the changes made by ESSA. Please contact the Bureau of School Leadership and Teacher Quality if you have additional specific staffing or certification questions.

  1. Must a State continue to ensure that all core content teachers are “highly qualified,” as defined in section 9101 of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA) and amended by No Child Left Behind (NCLB)?

    No.  ESSA removed the Highly Qualified Teacher requirements of section 1119 as amended by NCLB. All educators in commonwealth public schools must meet Pennsylvania’s certification statutory and regulatory requirements.

  2. If “highly qualified” as defined in NCLB is no longer applicable, what are the certification requirements for teachers in Title I schools?

    Per section 1111(g)(2)(J)  of ESEA, as amended by ESSA, all teachers teaching in a program supported with Title I funding must meet appropriate state certification and licensure requirements.

  3. Must a State continue to ensure that special education teachers are “highly qualified,” as defined in section 9101 of the ESEA, as amended by NCLB?

    No. ESSA amended ESEA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by removing the Highly Qualified Teacher requirements. All educators in Commonwealth public schools must meet Pennsylvania’s certification statutory and regulatory requirements.

  4. What are the current Pennsylvania requirements for issuance of an Instructional certificate to be certified in Special Education?

    An applicant must complete an approved special education certification program and hold an appropriate content certificate.

    Pennsylvania Special Education PreK-8 (age 3-14) educators must hold one of the following certificates: Grades PreK-4, Grades 4-8, Early Childhood N-3, Elementary K-6, Reading Specialist, or another PK-12 Instructional content certificate.

    Pennsylvania Special Education 7-12 (ages 11-21) educators must hold one of the following certificates: secondary (7-12) subject area, Reading Specialist, or another PK-12 Instructional content certificate.

  5. What are the Pennsylvania certification requirements for special education teachers of core content?

    Special education teachers who teach core content in a self-contained classroom only need a valid Pennsylvania Special Education certificate with the appropriate age and grade level.

  6. Are there circumstances where a teacher certified PK-8 in special education is permitted to teach in grades 7-12 or vice versa?

    Yes. A school entity may request an exception to the grade limitations from the Pennsylvania Department of Education in accordance with 22 Pa. Code § 49.85 (d). See CSPG 61.

  7. Is the Bridge program still in effect in Pennsylvania?
    No.

  8. Is the High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE) program still in effect in Pennsylvania?

    No. However, special education teachers that obtained the designation in content areas through the HOUSSE program will continue to see the designations on their Teacher Information Management System (TIMS) profile and on the public website.

  9. What are the certification requirements for charter school special education staff?

    IDEA 34 CFR § 300.156 requires educators to hold a special education certificate and must be included in the 75 percent certified staff.

  10. What are the Pennsylvania certification requirements for other professional staff who teach core content subjects in a charter school?

    In accordance with Pennsylvania’s Charter School law, 75 percent of professional staff members of a charter school must hold appropriate state certification for their assignment (24 P.S. § 17-1724-A). The remaining 25 percent may be uncertified in accordance with 24 P.S. § 17-1724-A(b).

  11. What are the “highly qualified” requirements for special education paraprofessionals under ESSA?

    Under ESSA, there are no specific federal requirements for special education paraprofessionals. There are requirements for paraprofessionals utilized in Title I funded programs. (See Question 12 related to Title I paraprofessional requirements.)
    Special education paraprofessionals must meet Pennsylvania’s regulatory requirements contained in 22 Pa. Code §14.105, which include the following:
    1. Have completed at least two years of postsecondary stud;.
    2. Possess an associate degree or higher; and
    3. Meet a rigorous standard of quality as demonstrated through a state or local assessment.
    4. Each school year, Instructional paraprofessionals shall provide evidence of 20 hours of staff development activities related to their assignment.

These requirements remain in effect, and districts must continue to comply with Chapter 14 requirements related to paraprofessionals.

  1. What requirements apply to the hiring of other paraprofessionals to work in a Title I, Part A program?
    • Section 1111(g)(2)(M) of the ESEA, as amended by ESSA, requires each state to have “professional standards for paraprofessionals working in a program supported with funds under [Title I, Part A], including qualifications that were in place on the day before the date of enactment of the [ESSA].”
    • Accordingly, states and LEAs must continue to ensure that each paraprofessional who is hired by the LEA and works in a program supported by Title I, Part A funds has a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent and has achieved the following:
      • Completed at least two years of study at an institution of higher education;
      • Obtained an associate’s or higher degree; or
      • Met a rigorous standard of quality and can demonstrate, through a formal state or local academic assessment, knowledge of, and the ability to assist in instructing, reading, writing, and mathematics.

Paraprofessionals who only serve as translators or who only conduct parental involvement activities must have a secondary diploma or its equivalent but do not have to meet the additional requirements.

  1. What are the Pennsylvania state certification requirements for teachers who teach students identified as English Learners (ELs) in English Language Development (ELD)?
    • A Program Specialist certificate is required to teach ELD or imbed ELD instruction at the PK-12 grade level.
    • See CSPG 68 for guidance on the ESL Program Specialist certificate.
  1. Must LEAS continue to report highly qualified data elements?

    Yes. LEAs must continue to submit the data elements in PIMS for other mandated reporting. HQT will not be calculated.