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:
New legislation in Arkansas requires candidates applying for the K-12 special education standard license to pass the Praxis II Fundamental Subjects: Content Knowledge (5511) test, which is a content test with a composite score.
Require that elementary special education candidates pass a rigorous content test as a condition of initial licensure.
Although Arkansas is on the right track in requiring a test of content knowledge of core subjects, the state should require a rigorous content test that reports separate passing scores for each content area. Arkansas should also set these passing scores to reflect high levels of performance. Failure to ensure that teachers possess requisite content knowledge may deprive special education students of the opportunity to reach their academic potential.
Ensure that secondary special education teachers possess adequate content knowledge.
Secondary special education teachers are frequently generalists who teach many core subject areas. Arkansas is on the right track requiring a test of content knowledge of core subjects. However, while it may be unreasonable to expect secondary special education teachers to meet the same requirements for each subject they teach, as do other teachers who teach only one subject, the state's current policy may not be sufficient to help special education students meet rigorous learning standards. Arkansas should consider a distinct route for new secondary special education teacher certification that allows candidates to demonstrate requisite content knowledge in the classroom through a combination of testing and coursework.
Arkansas recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state was also helpful in providing NCTQ with facts necessary for this analysis.
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.