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: The District of Columbia does not require content testing for any of its special education teacher candidates. The District of Columbia requires enrollment in but not completion of, a teacher preparation program in order to obtain an initial license. While this initial license is non-renewable, it is valid for three years. Teachers must complete a teacher preparation program and complete other requirements, including passage of a basic skills test and a pedagogy test.
DCMR 5-A 1601 and 1602 Educator Testing Flyer https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/Educator%20Testing%20Flyer%20as%20of%20March%2027%202017.pdf
Require that elementary special education candidates pass a rigorous content test as a condition of initial licensure.
To ensure that special education teacher candidates who will teach elementary grades possess sufficient knowledge of the necessary subject matter, the District of Columbia should require a rigorous content test that reports separate passing scores for each content area. The District of Columbia 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. The District of Columbia'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. The District 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.
The District of Columbia was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The District of Columbia indicated that it requires content testing for its special education categories of hearing impairments, visual impairments, learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, intellectual disabilities, and, at the other end of the spectrum, in gifted education. The District's non-categorical special education credential holders take the general Praxis II special education exam and are limited to roles as case managers and resource teachers who provide push in and pull out services in the general education classes.
The District of Columbia also indicated that special education teachers who serve as the teacher of record in a classroom are required to hold dual licensure in special education as well as the appropriate subject content area taught in the class. This applies for all levels; ECE, Elementary, Middle and High Schools. This policy began under NCLB highly qualified teacher status and operationally continues as a recommended state policy for all LEAs. Additionally, ESSA has no requirement that mandates LEAs to comply with this state recommended staffing policy since they have full autonomy and flexibility over teacher staffing.
By tying requirements to highly qualified status, it appears that the state is putting the burden on districts to ensure that teachers have passed tests for the grades and subjects they teach. A license should mean that a teacher is prepared to teach any subjects or grades covered under that certificate. Additionally, references to content testing in the analysis refer to core academic content areas (English/language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science).
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.