The state should ensure that special education teachers know the subject matter they will be required to teach.
Regrettably, Georgia offers a K-12 special education certification, in addition to grade-specific options.
Further, Georgia does not ensure that its elementary special education teacher candidates are provided with a broad liberal arts program of study relevant to the elementary classroom. It also does not require that they pass the same subject-matter test as general education candidates.
Georgia also fails to require that secondary special education teacher candidates are highly qualified in at least two subject areas, and it does not customize a HOUSSE route for new secondary special education teachers to help them achieve highly qualified status in all subjects they teach.
End licensure practices that fail to distinguish between the skills and knowledge needed to teach elementary grades and secondary grades.
It is virtually impossible and certainly impractical for Georgia to ensure that a K-12 special education teacher knows all the subject matter he or she is expected to be able to teach, especially considering state and federal expectations that special education students should meet the same high standards as other students. While the broad K-12 umbrella may be appropriate for teachers of low-incidence special education students, such as those with severe cognitive disabilities, it is deeply problematic for the overwhelming majority of high-incidence special education students, who are expected to learn grade-level content.
Provide a broad liberal arts program of study to elementary special education candidates, and require that they pass the same content test as general education teachers.
Georgia should ensure that special education teacher candidates who will teach elementary grades possess knowledge of the subject matter at hand. Not only should the state require core-subject coursework relevant to the elementary classroom, but it should also require that these candidates pass the same subject-matter test required of all elementary teachers. Failure to ensure that teachers possess requisite content knowledge deprives special education students of the opportunity to reach their academic potential.
Ensure that secondary special education teacher candidates graduate with highly qualified status in at least two subjects, and customize a HOUSSE route so that they can achieve highly qualified status in all subjects they plan to teach.
To make secondary special education teacher candidates more flexible and better able to serve schools and students, Georgia should use a combination of coursework and testing to ensure that they graduate with highly qualified status in two core academic areas. A customized HOUSSE route can also help new secondary special education teacher candidates to become highly qualified in multiple subjects by offering efficient means by which they could gain broad overviews of specific areas of content knowledge, such as content-driven university courses. Such a route is specifically permitted in the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Georgia asserted that program completers in special education receive an initial teaching certificate that places them in-field for consultative roles in special education, not to serve as teachers of record in core academic subjects. This model prepares them to serve in an inclusion model in settings with other teachers who are delivering instruction in grade-level content. The state added that even with this consultative role, it requires special education candidates to complete at least one content concentration in social science, science, math, language arts or reading.
Further, Georgia pointed out that to demonstrate subject-matter expertise for those who serve as teachers of record in one or more subjects in grades P-8, special education teachers can pass a Special Academic Content Concentrations GACE, which has been aligned and validated to the appropriate grade levels and has been determined by Title II federal monitoring not to hold special education teachers to a lesser standard than other teachers.
In addition, completers of early childhood special education programs must pass the Early Childhood Special Education General Curriculum GACE, which is aligned with state-mandated curriculum standards and state-adopted program standards. Psychometrically, the Early Childhood Special Education General Curriculum GACE assessment is valid and reliable and is designed to measure the level of content knowledge required of a beginning teacher who has completed a state-approved program in this field.
Finally, Georgia noted that its HOUSSE route, although no longer prevalent or encouraged, is an option for veteran special education teachers to be assessed to be highly qualified to add core academic content concentration area(s) to a special education consultative certificate. A complete HOUSSE rubric must be completed for each core academic subject area, and the teacher experience component of the rubric prohibits its use for new teachers.
While special educators should be valued for their critical role working with students with disabilities and special needs, 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.