Content Knowledge: New Jersey

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

Analysis of New Jersey's policies

Content Test Requirements: Although New Jersey offers a K-12 endorsement, it must be added to a general education license. Therefore, special education teachers that add their endorsement to an elementary certificate will have passed the Praxis Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects (5001) test, which contains separate subscores for each core content area.

In addition, New Jersey allows secondary special education teachers to teach single subjects on the K-12 secondary certifications. These teachers are required to pass a single-subject content test.

However, holders of this special education endorsement may provide "consultative services and supportive resource programs, including supplemental instruction, modification and adaptation of curriculum and instruction to students with disabilities in general education programs in grades preschool through 12." Because special education certifications are valid for all grades, there is no guarantee that teachers teaching special education at the elementary level will have passed the elementary content test, or that secondary special education teachers will have passed a single-subject content test.

Additionally, the state allows an exemption to candidates who have failed to meet the passing score by 5% if they have a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

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 New Jersey

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, New Jersey should require a rigorous content test that reports separate passing scores for each content area. New Jersey 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. New Jersey'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. New Jersey should consider a distinct route for secondary special education teacher certification that allows candidates to demonstrate requisite content knowledge in the classroom through a combination of testing and coursework.

Ensure that all high-incidence special education teachers demonstrate adequate content knowledge.
By tying grade-level content knowledge requirements to teacher of record, it appears that New Jersey 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.

Eliminate GPA exception.

Although the content tests required of New Jersey's special education candidates is commendable, it is undermined by the state's policy allowing teacher candidates who fail to meet the passing score by five percent to be exempt if their GPA is 3.5 or higher. Relevant higher-level coursework provides the foundation for requisite content knowledge, but to ensure that teacher candidates possess sufficient subject-matter knowledge for the elementary classroom, New Jersey should require all teacher candidates to pass a rigorous test. Doing so will help to ensure that every student is taught by a teacher with adequate subject-matter knowledge.

State response to our analysis

New Jersey recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis, however this analysis was updated subsequent to the state's review.  The state also noted that special education teachers without content knowledge expertise are pushing into a class to co-teach with or provide specific support to a content specialist with content expertise.


Updated: February 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 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.