Special Education Teacher Preparation Policy
The state should ensure that special education teachers know the subject matter they are licensed to teach. This goal was reorganized in 2017.
Content Test Requirements: All special education candidates in Rhode Island must hold a general education certification at a specific grade level to receive the corresponding special education certification.
Candidates applying for the elementary (1-6) special education certificate must pass the same elementary content test as is required of the general education elementary teachers. The Praxis II Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects (5001) test is comprised of four subtests with individual scores in math, reading and language arts, science and social studies. Candidates must pass each subtest to be eligible for licensure. The state also offers an early childhood special education certification for birth through grade 2; however, the Praxis II Early Childhood: Content Knowledge (5025) test does not report separate subscores in the core content areas of language arts, math, science or social studies.
Middle grades (5-8) special education candidates must earn a middle grades certificate in one of the following areas: English, mathematics, science, social studies or a world language.
Candidates applying for the secondary grades (7-12) special education certificate must hold certification in one of the following areas: agriculture, biology, business education, chemistry, English, general science, math, physics or social studies.
Special Education Certification http://www.ride.ri.gov/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Teachers-and-Administrators-Excellent-Educators/Educator-Certification/Cert-main-page/CertificationRedesign-SpecialEducation.pdf Regulations Governing the Certification of Educators in Rhode Island https://www.ride.ri.gov/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Teachers-and-Administrators-Excellent-Educators/Educator-Certification/Cert-main-page/CertificationRedesign-Regulations-PromulgatedVersion.pdf Rhode Island Independent and Dependent Certification Chart http://www.ride.ri.gov/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Teachers-and-Administrators-Excellent-Educators/Educator-Certification/Cert-main-page/Independent-and-Dependent-Certification-Chart.pdf
Ensure adequate content testing for middle grades special education teachers.
Although middle grades special education candidates are required to pass a content test, those teaching on the elementary certificate would have only passed the elementary content test. Therefore, Rhode Island should strengthen its policy and require teacher candidates who are teaching the middle grades to possess adequate content knowledge before entering the classroom.
Rhode Island 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.