Special Education Teacher Preparation Policy
The state should distinguish between the preparation of high-incidence elementary and secondary special education teachers. This goal was consistent between 2017 and 2020.
Unfortunately, in addition to one grade-specific option (birth-age 5), Virginia offers a special education license to teach grades K-12. In addition, special education candidates can also obtain add-on endorsements in three levels (K-6, 6-8, and 6-12) by holding a general education license at the applicable level. The middle and secondary general education licenses must be in a core subject area. Candidates opting for this licensure route must complete 15 semester hours in the education of students with disabilities and complete a practicum of at least 45 instructional hours.
Virginia Administrative Code 8 VAC 20-23-540 through 580
End licensure practices that fail to distinguish between the skills and knowledge needed to teach elementary grades and secondary grades.
The broad K-12 umbrella is deeply problematic for the overwhelming majority of high-incidence special education students, who are expected to learn grade-level content. Virginia—at the very least—should offer high-incidence elementary and secondary special education licenses and require special education teachers to have the appropriate license for the grade level of students with whom they are working.
Virginia recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.
4C: Special Education Licensure Requirements
Generic K-12 special education licenses are inappropriate for teachers of high-incidence special education students.
Too many states make no distinction 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.
It is virtually impossible and certainly impractical for states to ensure that a K-12 teacher knows all the subject matter he or she is expected to teach. Further, the issue is just as valid in terms of pedagogical knowledge. Teacher preparation and licensure for special education teachers must distinguish between elementary and secondary levels, as they do for general education. The current model does little to protect some of our most vulnerable students.