Content Knowledge: South Carolina

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.

Does not meet

Analysis of South Carolina's policies

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.

Citation

Recommendations for South Carolina

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, South Carolina should require a rigorous content test that reports separate passing scores for each content area. South Carolina 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. South Carolina'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. South Carolina 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

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.




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, 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.

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.