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No Educator Left Behind:
Subject Matter Competency

No Educator Left Behind is a series providing answers from the U.S. Department of Education to questions about the federal No Child Left Behind Act and how it will affect educators. If you have a question about No Child Left Behind, send an e-mail to Ellen Delisio, and we will submit your question to the Department of Education.


Why do new secondary teachers have more options to demonstrate subject matter competency than elementary teachers?


Teacher quality and competence is very important. Studies show that it has a major impact on student performance. The No Child Left Behind Act recognizes this. The law required that all teachers be highly qualified by the end of the 2005-06 school year, based on state certification standards and with a few exceptions (for instance, new teachers in rural schools who teach more than one subject may have additional time to demonstrate competency in additional subjects).

Elementary school teachers generally must demonstrate subject matter knowledge across the entire grade-level curricula: reading, math, history, etc. By contrast, middle- and high-school teachers generally stick to one subject. So elementary teachers who are new to the profession must pass a rigorous state test on multiple core subject knowledge and teaching skills. New teachers at the middle- and high-school level may demonstrate competency by the completion of a relevant academic major or the equivalent coursework. Of course, all teachers still must have full state certification and a bachelor's degree.

Experienced teachers have another, more flexible avenue to demonstrate their qualifications: the "High, Objective, Uniform State Standard of Evaluation," or HOUSSE. Under HOUSSE, states may determine teacher competency through a number of objective measures. Many states use point systems that allow teachers to combine years of experience, professional development, curriculum-development activities, and other factors. Contact your state to learn more.

Read previous questions and answers in our No Educator Left Behind archive.