Content Knowledge: Arkansas

Special Education Teacher Preparation Policy

Goal

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.

Meets a small part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Content Knowledge: Arkansas results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AR-Content-Knowledge-92

Analysis of Arkansas's policies

Content Test Requirements: Arkansas requires candidates applying for the K-12 special education standard license to pass the Praxis Fundamental Subjects: Content Knowledge (5511) test, which is a core content test with a composite score.

Provisional and Emergency Licensure: Because provisional and emergency licensure requirements are scored in Provisional and Emergency Licensure, only the test requirements for the state's initial license are considered as part of this goal.

Citation

Recommendations for Arkansas

Require that high-incidence 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 high-incidence secondary special education teachers possess adequate content knowledge.

Secondary high-incidence 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 high-incidence secondary special education teacher certification that allows candidates to demonstrate requisite content knowledge in the classroom through a combination of testing and coursework.

State response to our analysis

Arkansas stated that K-12 Special Education teachers are required to complete a program of study and take and pass three tests (Special Education: Core Knowledge and Applications, Fundamental Subjects: Content Knowledge and Arkansas Foundations of Reading). The program of study must be aligned to the Competencies for Special Education Teachers K-12 which ensures they possess adequate content knowledge. Arkansas also reiterated that the Fundamental Subjects covers all four core academic subject areas.

With regard to secondary areas, the state indicated that it works to ensure that students with disabilities are served in their least restrictive environment, and districts are encountering a shortage of teachers with content expertise who are able to provide core instruction based on grade-level expectations. According to the state, this high-level instruction is crucial as the state moves to having more students with Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) participating in the general assessment based on grade-level standards. The Special Education Resource was added as a licensure area in 2015. The area requires completion of twelve (12) hours of coursework and passing scores on the Praxis Special Education: Core Knowledge and Applications (5354). Arkansas stated that programs prepare educators who are currently licensed in K-6, 4-8, or 7-12 ELA, Math, or Science to teach the content area in which they are licensed to students with exceptionalities in an inclusion and/or resource setting. The Special Education resources requires a standard license, completion of a program aligned to the Competencies for Special Education Resource K-6, 7-12 and passing scores on the Special Education: Core Knowledge and Applications.

Updated: February 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.