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.
Content Test Requirements: Teacher candidates in Iowa applying for either the standalone K-8 or the 5-12 certificate are required to pass the Praxis Fundamental Subjects: Content Knowledge (5511) test and the Special Education: Core Knowledge and Mild to Moderate Applications (5543) test. Candidates also have the option of passing the edTPA exam. Neither the Mild to Moderate Applications nor edTPA is a content test. While the Fundamental Subjects test includes subtests in English language arts, math, citizenship and social science, and science, it does not require that subtest scores are reported. This test is also not the one required of Iowa's general education elementary teacher candidates—a requirement the state had implemented in the past.
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.
Require that elementary high-incidence special education candidates pass a content test that reports separate passing scores as a condition of initial licensure.
Iowa should require all elementary high-incidence special education teacher candidates, who are licensed to teach elementary grades, to pass an elementary content test appropriately aligned with its college- and career-readiness standards. None of the options offered to special education candidates is an adequate measure of content knowledge. The Praxis Fundamental Subjects test is on the right track but does not require separate, meaningful passing scores for each core subject covered on the test, including reading/language arts, math, science and social studies. The other two options are not measures of subject-matter knowledge. The Special Education Core Knowledge test is an assessment of professional knowledge. While performance assessments such as the edTPA provide an opportunity for teacher candidates to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in sample lessons, they are not designed to measure the depth and breadth of knowledge and skills needed in a single area.
Iowa recognized the factual accuracy of 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.