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Exception for an Orderly Transition: Highly Qualified Teachers

By Jennifer Simons, Title II coordinator, Federal Programs
Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - 4:05pm

Recent communications from the USDOE have clarified that section 1119 of NCLB, which requires all teachers of core academic subjects in the State to be “highly qualified,”  is among the provisions of the ESEA, as reauthorized by NCLB, that States are not required to implement in the 2016-17 school year in order to facilitate an orderly transition to the ESSA.  Highly qualified is a term that originated and was defined in NCLB.  Information on this definition and how requirements have been implemented in Colorado can be found at

Although States will not be required during the 2016-17 school year to ensure that teachers, including special education teachers, are highly qualified, the ESSA maintains the requirement that a person employed as a special education teacher in elementary school, middle school, or secondary school has:

  • obtained full certification as a special education teacher (including certification obtained through alternative routes to certification), or passed the State special education teacher licensing examination,
  • holds a license to teach in the State as a special education teacher,
  • holds a bachelor’s degree.

States must continue to comply with these certification requirements during the 2016-2017 school year.  

For more information about teacher qualifications, data and reporting as well as questions for which CDE is still seeking answers, please visit our website here:


So, to be clear a SPED teacher at the elementary level no longer needs a content exam or endorsement in elementary education?

Thank you for this question, Bryan. Colorado law requires that Special Education Generalists pass both the Special Education and Elementary Education content exams. ESSA defaults these requirements to State law. Therefore this will continue to be required per Colorado law.

Some additional questions have come in about this requirement that prompted a need for clarification on my previous response. The requirement that Special Education Generalists pass the Elementary Education content exam (in addition to the Special Education Generalist exam) is specifically for teachers pursuing the Special Education Generalist endorsement. If a district employs a teacher who already holds the Special Education Generalist endorsement, they are in compliance with both ESSA and IDEA whether or not that teacher has passed the Elementary content exam.
Until further guidance is issued, districts can opt to continue to implement highly qualified requirements or exercise flexibility.

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