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: Most 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 add their certificate to a general elementary education certificate or an all-grades certificate. Candidates who posses an elementary certificate will have passed the same elementary content test as is required of the general education elementary teachers. The Praxis 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 all-grades certificates cover subject areas such as: physical education and music, etc. They also cover special education-deaf and hard of hearing, visually impaired, or severe intellectual disability. Candidates adding their elementary special education license to one of the all-grades certificate will not have passed the elementary content test.
The state also offers an early childhood special education certification for birth-grade 2. Candidates must add this to a general early childhood special education license and will have passed the Praxis Early Childhood: Content Knowledge (5025) test. This 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, or social studies. Therefore, these candidates will have passed a content test in one of the core content areas.
Candidates applying for the secondary grades (7-12) special education certificate must hold certification in one of the following areas: agriculture, biology, business education, career and technical education, chemistry, English, general science, math, physics, or social studies. Candidates also have the option of adding their special education certificate to an all-grades certificate. These certificates cover subject areas such as physical education and music, etc. They also cover special education-deaf and hard of hearing, visually impaired, or severe intellectual disability. Candidates adding their special education certificate to an all-grades certificate will not have passed 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.
Ensure adequate content testing for elementary special education teachers.
Although high-incidence elementary special education candidates are required to pass an elementary content test with four separately scored subtests in the core content areas, those teaching on an all grades certificate would have not passed the elementary content test. Therefore, Rhode Island should strengthen its policy and require teacher candidates who are teaching the elementary grades to possess adequate content knowledge before entering the classroom.
Ensure adequate content testing for secondary special education teachers.
Although high-incidence secondary special education candidates are required to pass a content test, those teaching on an all grades certificate would have not passed a secondary content test. Therefore, Rhode Island should strengthen its policy and require teacher candidates who are teaching the secondary grades to possess adequate content knowledge before entering the classroom.
Rhode Island was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state also indicated that because all individuals seeking special educator certification must also hold general educator certification, a content test is required for all. In order to become certified in elementary special educator, a teacher has to also hold elementary general educator license and would therefore would have had to pass those tests. The same is true for secondary. The all Grades certificates have been added as an option. Those individuals would have passed tests in their own certification area (music, PE, etc.) but would not have passed the elementary or secondary tests.
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.