Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Go to Selected Program Area
Massachusetts State Seal
Students & Families Educators & Administrators Teaching, Learning & Testing Data & Accountability Finance & Funding About the Department Education Board  
   IDEA 2004

Special Education

Administrative Advisory SPED 2005-1:
Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Highly Qualified Special Education Teacher

To:Superintendents, Charter School Leaders, Special Education Administrators, and Other Interested Parties
From:Marcia Mittnacht
State Director of Special Education
Date:March 16, 2005


The standards for highly qualified (HQ) special education teachers under the reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA-2004) are consistent with the HQ standards for teachers under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), with some additional flexibility for special education teachers. IDEA-2004 provides flexibility in meeting the HQ standards for special educators assigned to "consultative roles," and also describes the ways in which special education teachers can meet the HQ standards. This advisory is intended to define HQ standards for special education teachers in public schools and public charter schools in Massachusetts, and to provide guidance for teachers who need to meet those standards by the end of school year 2005-6.

The Massachusetts' special education teacher licenses are Teacher of Students with Moderate Disabilities; Teacher of Young Children with and without Disabilities; Teacher of the Deaf or Hard of Hearing; Teacher of the Visually Impaired; and Teacher of Students with Severe Disabilities. The HQ standards apply only to teachers holding these licenses and not to special educators holding other types of licenses.

At this time, absent further guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (the Department) will not require personnel in private schools serving publicly funded students with disabilities to meet the HQ standards that must be met by public school special education teachers. The Department will update this information if final regulations for IDEA-2004 provide additional guidance on this issue.

This advisory will cover the following areas:

  1. General HQ standards for special education teachers;
  2. Definition of a consultative special education teacher;
  3. How to demonstrate subject matter competency;
  4. Paraprofessionals and HQ standards
  1. General HQ standards for special education teachers.

    Special education teachers in public schools and public charter schools who
    (a) are teaching core academic subjects1 and
    (b) are the only teachers of those subjects for students with disabilities
    must meet the same HQ standards as all teachers under NCLB by possessing a Massachusetts teaching license in special education and must demonstrate subject matter competency in each of the core academic subjects in which he or she teaches in order to be considered HQ in that subject.

    Special education teachers are required to be highly qualified (HQ) as of the end of the school year 2005-6. No individual in a teaching position who is working pursuant to a "waiver" is considered to be HQ, regardless of job assignment.

    NCLB and IDEA-2004 require that all teachers, including special education teachers, meet HQ standards by the end of the 2005-6 school year.

    For information on ways that teachers can demonstrate subject matter competency in core areas under NCLB standards, please see Part 3 below.

  2. Definition of a consultative special education teacher.

    Special education teachers who are working exclusively as "consultative teachers" meet HQ standards as long as they are licensed as a special education teacher in Massachusetts. Consultative teachers are not required to demonstrate subject matter competency because they are not the primary teachers of core academic subjects.

    IDEA-2004 acknowledges the importance of special education teachers who do not teach core academic subjects, but who provide special education services to students with disabilities, and creates an exception to HQ standards for these consultative teachers. A consultative special education teacher is considered a "highly qualified special education teacher" as long as he or she is licensed, and is not the primary teacher providing subject matter instruction in a core academic area(s). If a consultative teacher serves as the primary content instructor in one or more content areas for one or more children, then that teacher must meet HQ standards in that content area.

    A consultative teacher is a teacher who is not the sole provider of content instruction in a core academic subject area, whether that teacher works in a resource setting or team-teaches in a classroom setting. A consultative teacher may augment core subject teaching through making adjustments to the learning environment, adapting curricula, or providing accommodations. The consultative special education teacher may also provide behavioral supports or interventions.

  3. How to demonstrate subject matter competency.

    Subject matter competency must be demonstrated in each of the core academic subject areas in which the special education teacher is the primary content instructor for one or more students with disabilities.

    • Veteran Teachers: Teachers currently in the workforce are considered "veteran" teachers. A veteran licensed special education teacher at any grade level may demonstrate subject matter competency in the core academic areas by passing the appropriate subject matter Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure (MTEL) test2, or by completing the appropriate HOUSSE plan (see below for a description of a HOUSSE plan). These are the same standards for all teachers under NCLB. Depending on licensure requirements in effect at the time the teacher received his/her original license, many veteran special education teachers may have already demonstrated subject matter competency in some or all subjects at the time of licensure through passage of MTEL tests required for licensure. Additional options for all special education teachers include demonstrating subject matter competency: through possession of an academic major; a graduate degree; coursework equivalents; or National or American Board Certification in the field. These options have also been available under NCLB, however, IDEA-2004 allows special education teachers at any level to exercise these additional options rather than limiting them solely to secondary level teachers as is the case under NCLB.

    • New Special Education Teachers: New special education teachers who were required to pass a subject matter test to obtain their license will have met the HQ subject matter standards in the subject areas in which they have been tested. However, subject matter competency will be limited only to the tested subject area(s). If the new special education teacher needs subject matter competency in other content areas not covered by the testing required as part of the licensure process, the teacher may demonstrate subject matter competency through the same options that are available to veteran teachers as described above.

    The HOUSSE plan: NCLB allows states to develop a high objective uniform state standard of evaluation (HOUSSE plan) in order to allow teachers to demonstrate subject matter competency. Teachers in Massachusetts may demonstrate this subject matter competency through an individual professional development plan and the completion of professional development activities. In order to meet the highly qualified subject matter competency standards through HOUSSE, Massachusetts teachers are required to have a total of 120 Professional Development Points (PDPs) with 80% or 96 PDPs focusing on the content or content pedagogy of the core academic subjects that they teach. If a special education teacher wishes to cover more than one subject, at least 10 PDPs of the 96 PDPs must be accrued in each core academic subject that the teacher teaches - for a total of 96 PDPs across the subject areas -- in order to demonstrate subject matter competency in those areas. Since June of 1999, approved professional development providers are required to demonstrate through end of course assessments or products that the participant has subject matter competency. Therefore, a teacher may look at professional development completed after June of 1999 in gathering together the 96 PDPs necessary under the HOUSSE plan, and may use their re-licensure professional development plan or a separate professional development plan to demonstrate meeting HOUSSE standards.

  4. Paraprofessionals and HQ standards.

    The IDEA-2004 does not change the standards for instructional paraprofessionals already articulated in NCLB. Special education paraprofessionals working in a school building that has adopted a school-wide program for Title 1 of NCLB and who are providing instructional support must meet the paraprofessional standards for HQ as articulated in NCLB, regardless of the funding source for their position. A special education paraprofessional whose position is funded through Title 1 funds and who works in a targeted assistance Title 1 program and who is providing instructional support must also meet the HQ standards.

    As a final note, the standards related to HQ teachers are systemic standards. The HQ standards do not create individual entitlements for students and parents under the special education law. School districts must work to ensure that all teachers are highly qualified and NCLB requires public reporting to the families of students in the district regarding the number of highly qualified teachers in a school building, including the HQ status of the student's teacher(s). The highly qualified designation is the responsibility of each school district to determine for its teachers and paraprofessionals. A student's right to a free and appropriate public education does not mean that a student or a group of students may initiate an appeal or file a complaint against the district solely because the student's teacher is not highly qualified.

In closing, we hope you find this information helpful, and that you will use the included web links for additional guidance and information.


Last Updated: March 3, 2005
E-mail this page| Print View| Print Pdf
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Search · A-Z Site Index · Policies · Site Info · Contact DESE