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:
South Carolina requires an initial teaching certificate at the early childhood, elementary, middle, secondary, or PreK-12 level. Elementary teachers are required to pass the Praxis II Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects (5001) test which contains separate subscores for each core content area. Middle and secondary teachers are required to pass a Praxis II single-subject test. Early childhood education teachers are required to pass the Praxis II: Education of Young Children (5024) test, which is not a content test.
However, because special education endorsements 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. And PreK-12 certificates typically do not require content knowledge tests in the core content area.
South Carolina Code of Regulations 43-62 and Guidelines https://ed.sc.gov/state-board/state-board-of-education/additional-resources/regulations-table-of-contents/
South Carolina recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. In addition, the state noted that with the exception of Early Childhood Special Education, all Special Education certification fields in South Carolina are P-12 areas. With the elimination of highly qualified teacher requirements associated with No Child Left Behind, the state indicated that it no longer requires that special education teacher candidates take and pass an exam in elementary content areas. These candidates must meet program admission requirements and complete the general education core requirements of the preparation program as well as the major coursework and field experiences that support their ability to adapt or modify curriculum for learners. At the secondary level, South Carolina noted, teachers certified in Special Education may not be assigned to teach content area credit-bearing courses. They may serve in co-teaching or resource roles but do not offer courses for high school credit.
Special educators should be valued for their critical role in working with students with disabilities and special needs; however, they are identified by the state not as "special education assistants" but as "special education teachers," presumably because the state expects them to provide instruction to children. The state makes an effort to distinguish between a consultative and an instructional role. However, whether working as a teacher of record or working with students who are primarily in a general education setting would require at least some knowledge of grade-level content in order to make it accessible.
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.