Content Knowledge: Michigan

2017 General Teacher Prep Programs Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that special education teachers know the subject matter they are licensed to teach. This goal was reorganized in 2017.

Meets in part

Analysis of Michigan's policies

Content Test Requirements: Michigan requires an initial provisional teaching certificate at either the elementary or secondary level. Elementary teachers are required to pass the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification (MTTC) Elementary Education test. Secondary teachers are required to pass the MTTC single subject tests.

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.

Citation

Recommendations for Michigan

Require that elementary special education candidates pass a rigorous content test as a condition of initial licensure.
To ensure that special education teacher candidates who will teach elementary grades possess sufficient knowledge of the necessary subject matter, Michigan should require a rigorous content test that reports separate passing scores for each content area. Michigan 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 special education teachers possess adequate content knowledge.

Secondary special education teachers are frequently generalists who teach many core subject areas. Michigan'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. Michigan 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.

State response to our analysis

Michigan noted that candidates pursuing a special education endorsement with elementary certification are required to pass the elementary education MTTC and cannot be recommended for stand-alone K-12 endorsement in special education without an accompanying elementary certificate. Without having earned an elementary certificate by completing a program of study in elementary education and passing the elementary education certification test, a teacher with a K-12 special education endorsement is restricted to providing resource room or co-teaching support. Teachers cannot provide core academic instruction to elementary students with special learning needs without a demonstration of content knowledge expertise in elementary education.

Michigan also asserted that without a demonstration of appropriate content knowledge at the secondary level via passage of a secondary level MTTC, a teacher with an elementary certificate and a K-12 special education endorsement is restricted to co-teaching with a certified content area teacher or providing non-content-specific academic support in a resource room setting at the secondary level. Passing a secondary level MTTC content area assessment would permit the elementary certified teacher with a K-12 special education endorsement to provide instruction to special education students in the respective content area. 

Michigan also noted that it will not approve initial K-12 special education certification programs at the secondary level without an accompanying course of study in a teachable content area. It is possible that candidates could complete such a program of study and receive a secondary certificate with only a K-12 special education endorsement if they do not take or are unable to pass the MTTC for the accompanying content area. However, such a teacher would be restricted to providing resource room or co-teaching support and could not be assigned as teacher of record for credit-bearing academic content coursework.

Last word

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, 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.

How we graded

4A: Special Education Content Knowledge 

  • Elementary Content Knowledge: The state should require that all new 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 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 elementary special education candidates to pass an elementary content knowledge test 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 elementary licenses in conjunction with special education licenses but does not offer special education elementary licenses. 
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 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 licenses in conjunction with special education licenses but does not offer special education secondary 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.