Content Knowledge

Special Education Teacher Preparation Policy

Content Knowledge

The state should ensure that high-incidence special education teachers demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the subject matter they are licensed to teach. This goal was consistent between 2017 and 2020.

Best practices

Although NCTQ is not awarding "best practice" honors, Louisiana and New York, deserve recognition for taking steps in the right direction to help ensure that all special education teachers know the subject matter they are licensed to teach. Each of these states require that elementary special education candidates pass the same content tests as their general education elementary peers, which are comprised of individual subtests. Secondary special education teachers in New York must pass a multi-subject content test for special education teachers comprised of three separately scored sections. Louisiana requires their secondary special education teachers hold certification in another secondary area.

Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Content Knowledge national results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/national/Content-Knowledge-92
Best practice 0

States

Meets goal 2

States

Nearly meets goal 0

States

Meets goal in part 5

States

Meets a small part of goal 5

States

Does not meet goal 39

States

Progress on this goal since 2017

  • Improved
  • Stayed the same
  • Regressed

Do states require elementary special education candidates to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of every subject they are licensed to teach?

2020
2017
Add previous year
Figure details

Yes. State requires an adequate elementary subject-matter test to earn an elementary special education license.: AL, LA, MA, NY, RI

Partially. State requires an adequate elementary subject-matter test, but it permits candidates to earn an overly broad K-12 special education license.: AR, CO, IL, NJ

No. State does not require an adequate test.: AK, AZ, CA, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IN, KS, KY, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NM, NV, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY

Footnotes
AL: Early childhood special education candidates must pass the Praxis Early Childhood: Content Knowledge (5025) test.
AR: The Praxis Fundamental Subjects: Content Knowledge (5511) is a general core content test, not an elementary-specific content test, with a composite score.
CO: Colorado does not require early childhood special education candidates to pass the Praxis Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects (5001) test.
GA: Only PreK-5 candidates are required to pass the Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE) Special Education General Curriculum/Elementary Education test, which contains two subtests, one of which combines all core content.
ID: Idaho's use of the Multiple Subjects test is commendable, it is undermined by the state's policy that allows teacher candidates to the option of passing the 7801/7811 Content Knowledge for Teaching test which has four separately scored content tests but does not sufficiently assess candidate’s content knowledge in science.
IL: The Illinois Licensure Testing System (ILTS) Special Education General Curriculum test is not an elementary-specific content test. It's a general content test with a composite score.
MS: Only the K-8 supplemental endorsement must be added to an existing elementary license. Candidates will have passed the Praxis Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (5017) test. This test is not required for K-12 candidates.
NC: North Carolina only requires passage of a math subtest from either the Pearson General Curriculum test or the Praxis Content Knowledge for Teaching test. Additionally, candidates have up to three years to pass the test if they attempt it their first year of teaching.
NJ: Candidates must add a special education license to either an elementary or secondary general education license. A candidate who fails to earn the passing score by 5 percent or less can still meet the subject matter requirement with a GPA of at least 3.5.
RI: Only teachers adding their special education certificate to an elementary certification are required to pass the Praxis Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects (5001) test.
WI: Content tests are optional for both early childhood and K-12 special education candidates.

Do states require secondary special education candidates to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of every subject they are licensed to teach?

2020
2017
Add previous year
Figure details

Yes. State requires an adequate secondary subject-matter test.: NY

Partially. State requires a subject-matter test, but it does not require secondary special education candidates to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of every subject they are licensed to teach.: AR, IL, LA, MA, NJ, RI

No. State does not require a test.: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IN, KS, KY, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NM, NV, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY

Footnotes
AR: The Praxis Fundamental Subjects: Content Knowledge (5511) is a general core content test, not an secondary-specific content test, with a composite score.
IL: The Illinois Licensure Testing System (ILTS) Special Education General Curriculum test is not a secondary-specific content test. It's a general content test with a composite score.
LA: State requires a test in at least one subject.
MA: Candidates can opt to take the General Curriculum test instead which is test required of elementary candidates.
NJ: Candidates must add a special education license to either an elementary or secondary general education license. Requires a test in at least one subject. A candidate who fails to earn the passing score by 5 percent or less can still meet the subject matter requirement with a GPA of at least 3.5.
NY: New York requires a multi-subject content test specifically geared to secondary special education candidates. It is divided into three subtests.
RI: Candidates have the option of adding their certificate to an all grades certification which does not require a content test.
WI: Content tests are optional for both early childhood and K-12 special education candidates.

Updated: May 2020

How we graded

4A: Special Education Content Knowledge 

  • Elementary Content Knowledge: The state should require that all new high-incidence elementary special education candidates pass a licensure test across all elementary subject areas that is no less rigorous than the test required of general education candidates.
  • Secondary Content Knowledge: The state should require that all new high-incidence secondary special education candidates possess adequate content knowledge.
Elementary Content Knowledge
One-half of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if it requires all new high-incidence elementary special education candidates to pass an elementary content knowledge test that contains four separately scored content exams to ensure appropriate content knowledge in all core academic subject areas.
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if it requires high-incidence special education teachers to pass the same content tests as elementary teachers, but the content test does not contain four separately scored tests.
Secondary Content Knowledge
One-half of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if it requires all new high-incidence secondary special education candidates to pass a special education licensure test across all secondary subject areas that is no less rigorous than the test required of general education candidates.
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if it requires secondary general education licenses in conjunction with high-incidence special education licenses but does not offer secondary special education licenses.

Research rationale

Generic K-12 special education licenses are inappropriate for teachers of high-incidence special education students. Too many states do not distinguish between elementary and secondary special education teachers, certifying all such teachers under a generic K-12 special education license. While this broad umbrella may be appropriate for teachers of low-incidence special education students, such as those with severe cognitive disabilities, it is deeply problematic for high-incidence special education students, who are expected to learn grade-level content.[1] And because the overwhelming majority of special education students are in the high-incidence category, the result is a fundamentally broken system.

Special education teachers teach content and therefore must know content.[2] While special educators should be valued for their critical role in working with students with disabilities and special needs, each state identifies them not as "special education assistants" but as "special education teachers," presumably because it expects them to provide instruction. Inclusion models, where special education students receive instruction from a general education teacher paired with a special education teacher to provide instructional support, do not mitigate the need for special education teachers to know content.[3] Providing instruction to children who have special needs requires knowledge of both effective learning strategies and the subject matter at hand.[4] Failure to ensure that teachers are well trained in content areas—presumably through subject matter licensing tests—deprives special education students of the opportunity to reach their academic potential.


[1] Levenson, N. (2011). Something has got to change: Rethinking special education (Working Paper 2011-01). American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED521782
[2] For an analysis of the importance of special educator content knowledge, see: Levenson, N. (2011). Something has got to change: Rethinking special education. American Enterprise Institute (Working paper 2011-01, 1-20).; For information on teacher licensing tests, see: Gitomer, D. H., & Latham, A. S. (1999). The academic quality of prospective teachers: The impact of admissions and licensure testing. Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/RR-03-35.pdf; For a study on teacher testing scores and student achievement, see: Ladd, H. F., Clotfelter, C. T., & Vigdor, J. L. (2007). How and why do teacher credentials matter for student achievement (NBER Working Paper, 142786). Retrieved from http://www.caldercenter.org/sites/default/files/1001058_Teacher_Credentials.pdf
[3] Feng, L., & Sass, T. R. (2010). What makes special education teachers special? Teacher training and achievement of students with disabilities (Working Paper 49). National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Retrieved from http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/1001435-what-makes-special.pdf; Monk, D. H. (1994). Subject area preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 13(2), 125-145.
[4] For research on the importance of teachers' content knowledge, see: Boyd, D. J., Grossman, P. L., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2009). Teacher preparation and student achievement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 31(4), 416-440; Willingham, D. T. (2006). How knowledge helps: It speeds and strengthens comprehension, learning—and thinking. American Educator, 30(1), 30-37.