Content Knowledge: Kansas

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.

Does not meet goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Content Knowledge: Kansas results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Kansas's policies

Content Test Requirements: Kansas offers the following unified special education licenses: Early Childhood Unified (birth-grade 3 and birth-K) and Elementary Education Unified (K-6) license, which allows teachers to teach children with and without disabilities. The early childhood unified birth-grade 3 license requires candidates to pass the Education of Young Children (5024) and Special Education: Preschool/Early Childhood (5691) test, neither of which is a content test. The state's required elementary test, the Praxis Elementary Education: Content Knowledge for Teaching (7811) test, contains four separately scored subtests in English language arts, mathematics, social studies and science, however the science subtest does not sufficiently assess candidates' content knowledge in science.

Kansas also has a secondary education unified license covering grades 6-12. Secondary content tests are not currently required.

With regard to the high incidence licenses that the state offers (K-6,5-8, 6-12 and PreK-12), the Kansas Administrative Regulation indicates that an applicant for a high-incidence special education endorsement "shall have successfully completed ... a state-approved program to teach general education students," or a professional education component, that among other things, "allows students to acquire competency in...content knowledge and application of content."  The state's endorsement chart indicates that these licenses "must be done with a general education license" but it's unclear whether that means content tests at the applicable grade level are required for each license. The required test for all high incidence special education teachers is the Praxis Special Education: Core Knowledge and Mild to Moderate Applications (5543) test. This is not a content test.

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 Kansas

Require that elementary high-incidence special education candidates pass a rigorous content test as a condition of initial licensure.
To ensure that high-incidence special education teacher candidates who will teach elementary grades possess sufficient knowledge of the necessary subject matter, Kansas should require a rigorous content test that reports separate passing scores for each content area. Kentucky 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 special education teachers are frequently generalists who teach many core subject areas. Kansas' 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. Kansas 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

Kansas was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. Kansas also stated that secondary content endorsements can be added to the license based on passing the appropriate content test. According to the state, secondary unified programs will emphasize math and English language arts, but that no programs have been approved at this time.

With regard to the state's high incidence licenses, Kansas noted that any person adding a special education endorsement will have taken and passed the content specific test for the general education they completed and are licensed teach. They can thus be assigned to provide content teaching in their licensed area to special education students or to provide supportive special education services only to students with a licensed content teacher.

Regarding the state's unified licenses, Kansas noted that no tests for this endorsement have been formally adopted at this time. Program standards for secondary unified programs include math and English language arts content standards/competencies that must be met by candidates during program delivery. These program standards for secondary unified have been adopted by the state board of education, but it is too soon for any institution to have developed and submitted a program for approval at this point in time. Therefore, as these programs are developed, approved and start accepting candidates, final testing requirements will be determined and presented to the state board of education for approval.

Updated: May 2020

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
[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.