Special Education Teacher Preparation Policy
The state should ensure that special education teachers know the subject matter they are licensed to teach. This goal was reorganized in 2017.
Content Test Requirements:
Commendably, candidates in Alabama applying for the K-6 special education certification must pass the Praxis II Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects (5001) test, which is the same assessment required of general education elementary teachers. The state also offers a PreK-3 early childhood special education license. Candidates for these licenses are required to take the Praxis II, Early Childhood: Content Knowledge (5025) test.
Alabama does not require any content testing for candidates applying for the 6-12 special education certification.
Alabama Administrative Code 290-3-3-.34 Praxis Test Requirements www.ets.org
Ensure that secondary special education teachers possess adequate content knowledge.
Secondary special education teachers are frequently generalists who teach many core subject areas. Alabama's current policy of requiring no subject-matter testing is problematic because it fails to ensure that all secondary special education teachers are adequately prepared to help their students meet rigorous learning standards. Alabama should consider a distinct route for secondary special education teacher certification that allows candidates to demonstrate requisite content knowledge in the classroom through a combination of testing and coursework.
Alabama recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. In addition, the state indicated that teachers whose only endorsement on their certificate is Special Education are not deemed properly certified to teach any academic subject as the teacher of record. Rather, they are prepared to provide instructional support for students being taught academic subjects by properly certified teachers whose certificates identify an academic subject(s) - English language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, etc. Alabama noted that special education teachers with two years of experience may add an endorsement for an academic subject by meeting the requirements stipulated by the Alabama administrative code.
Special educators should be valued for their critical role working with students with disabilities and special needs; however, they are identified by the state not as "special education assistants" but as "special education teachers," presumably because the state expects them to provide instruction to children. Providing instruction to children who have special needs requires both knowledge of effective learning strategies and some knowledge of the subject matter at hand. Failure to ensure that teachers are well trained in content areas deprives special education students of the opportunity to reach their full academic potential.
4A: Special Education Content Knowledge
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. 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. 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. Providing instruction to children who have special needs requires knowledge of both effective learning strategies and the subject matter at hand. 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.