Content Knowledge: Georgia

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: Georgia results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/GA-Content-Knowledge-92

Analysis of Georgia's policies

Content Test Requirements: Georgia's PreK-12 and PreK-5 special education certificates are issued as consultative, meaning that the teacher may work collaboratively with a content area teacher of record in all content subjects. Special Education General Curriculum/Elementary Education 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. Georgia's Special Education General Curriculum PreK-12 candidates must pass the GACE Special Education General Curriculum Assessment, which is not a content test.

To serve as teacher of record, candidates must add an academic content concentration at a cognitive level (PreK-5, 4-8, and 6-12) in one of the following five areas: math, science, social science, language arts, and reading. To add an academic content concentration to a special education certificate, the teacher must either be recommended by an approved program or pass the appropriate content assessment. Candidates adding the PreK-5 cognitive level via a content assessment must pass the GACE Elementary Education assessment, which is a content test with two subtests. The state also offers a special education preschool (ages 3-5) endorsement which does not require an assessment.

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 Georgia

Require that elementary high-incidence 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, Georgia should require a rigorous content test that reports separate passing scores for each content area. Georgia 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 high-incidence special education teachers possess adequate content knowledge.
Secondary high-incidence special education teachers are frequently generalists who teach many core subject areas. Georgia'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. Georgia should consider a distinct route for secondary high-incidence 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

Georgia recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis, however this analysis was updated subsequent to the state's review.The state also indicated that teachers with a Special Education General Curriculum certificate (P-12) or a Special Education Adapted Curriculum certificate (P-12) can serve in a consultative role only, but cannot serve as the teacher of record in an academic content area(s) without certification in the relevant content area(s) and appropriate cognitive levels of the children being served.

Updated: February 2020

Last word

Special educators should be valued for their critical role in working with students with disabilities and special needs; however, they are identified by the state as "special education teachers," presumably because the state expects them to provide instruction to children. While the state makes an effort to distinguish between a consultative and an instructional role, it would seem to hold that special education teachers working collaboratively with teachers of record would need at least some knowledge of the subject matter at hand. By tying requirements to teacher of record, 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 subject or grade covered under that certificate.


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.