Content Knowledge: Idaho

Special Education Teacher Preparation Policy


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.

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Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Content Knowledge: Idaho results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Idaho's policies

Content Test Requirements: All Exceptional Child-Generalist special education teacher candidates in Idaho are required to pass the Praxis Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects (5001) test or the Elementary Education: Content Knowledge for Teaching (7811) test, which are the same tests required of general education elementary teacher candidates. The Multiple Subjects assessment reports subscores in each individual core content area. The 7811 test is currently under review by NCTQ to determine whether its separately scored subtests sufficiently assess candidates' content knowledge.

Blended Early Childhood Special Education/Early Childhood Education (birth-grade 3) candidates are required to pass the Praxis Early Childhood Education (5025) test, which contains 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.


Recommendations for Idaho

Require high-incidence elementary teacher candidates to pass a subject-matter test designed to ensure sufficient content knowledge of all subjects.
Idaho's use of the Multiple Subjects test is commendable. However, because Idaho also allows teacher candidates to pass the Content Knowledge for Teaching test, which NCTQ is currently reviewing to determine whether its separately scored subtests sufficiently assess candidates' content knowledge, we have no specific recommendations at this time.

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. Idaho's current policy of only requiring an elementary-level content is problematic because it fails to ensure that all secondary special education teachers are adequately prepared to help their students meet rigorous learning standards. Idaho 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

Idaho recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

Updated: February 2020

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
[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; 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
[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; 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.