Upgrade in the works for special ed credentials

Upgrade in the works for special ed credentials

(Calif.) An effort to improve the competencies of new special education teachers in California took a big step forward last week when the state credentialing oversight board agreed in concept to adopt new performance expectations.

After a lengthy hearing, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing also informally backed the idea that new special education teachers pass an updated subject matter exam.

While important, CTC officials acknowledged there is still a lot of work ahead in refining the proper training and skill standards for special education teachers.

“Our data is showing that we are not serving our students with disabilities as well as we should be,” said Teri Clark, director of the CTC’s professional services division. “We’re seeing with the performance data coming out from the California Dashboard that there is a significant gap between SWD and their counterparts in the general education classroom.”

Advocates for SWD have been calling for upgrades in teacher development for some time now. A blue ribbon task force appointed by Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, released a report in 2012 that recommend far more integration between general education teachers and specialists that served SWD.

The goal is driven by a growing body of research that suggests SWD do best when more of their school day is spent in the general education classroom. This is also the basis for the long-standing requirement set out by federal law that SWD be educated in the “least restricted environment.”

In California, the move toward “inclusion” has taken several forms. Last summer, for instance, Torlakson announced a merger of the special education unit within the general instruction and learning division of the California Department of Education.

But to ensure the consolidation is fully realized, teacher preparation programs must be revised to accommodate the shift.

Over the past two years, the CTC adopted updated program standards and teacher performance expectations for general education teachers that added more emphasis on how to serve special education students.

Now the board is looking at the existing credentials and training standards for teachers that work specifically with SWD.

Currently, the state issues seven different credentials aimed at the needs of SWD:

  • Deaf and hearing impairment
  • Physical and health impairment
  • Visual impairment
  • Language and academic development
  • Mild/Moderate disabilities
  • Moderate and severe disabilities.

Among the big issues pending before the CTC is whether the seven credentials still fulfills the needs of SWD in California or if changes need to be made—either in addition or subtraction.

As a means to organize concepts, the CTC has been using a “tree trunk” image to illustrate what all teachers will need to be able to do in the future and what more specialized instructors will need to follow to address the specific needs of individual students.

The base of the trunk, which would include foundational training in SWD, all teachers will receive, the CTC agreed last week. They also agreed that there is a need to develop a test for special education teachers to take and show competency with a higher level of service to SWD.

Set aside for now is whether adjustments need to be made to the seven credentials now being offered. Clark said that there is ongoing tension between those who believe more specialty is needed to better serve specific SWD subgroups, and district employers who want teachers that have a broader set of skills and can serve in more areas.