THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234
Higher Education Committee, EMSC Committee
Joseph P. Frey
John B. King
Students with Disabilities Teacher Certification
March 1, 2010
Issue for Discussion
Should the Board of Regents revise the structure of the students with disabilities certification to increase the supply of students with disabilities teachers at the adolescence level and ensure they are appropriately qualified to teach to the State’s learning standards?
Review of policy.
This item will come before the Higher Education Committee for discussion at its March 2010 meeting.
This analysis is a part of the Board of Regents and Department’s commitment to review the Regents teaching policy. At your February 2007, December 2007, March 2008, March 2009 and October 2009 Committee meetings, you discussed the needs of students with disabilities and how to structure students with disabilities teacher certification to best meet those needs. In October 2009, you requested that the Department return to the field to identify more options for structuring students with disabilities teacher certification. Early on in the process we formed and held meetings with the Department’s Special Education Work Group. We have sought and received feedback on three separate occasions from institutions of higher education (IHEs), local education agencies (LEAs), the early childhood community, boards of cooperative educational services (BOCES), professional associations and other interested parties. Attachment 1 provides a summary of the most recent stakeholder comments. Your discussions have been informed by these meetings, public feedback and teacher supply and demand data.
Summary of Recommendations
There is no shortage in teachers of SWDs in the Early Childhood or Childhood developmental levels. If adjustments are made in the grade span for these certificates, it makes sense to consider making changes to both the general education Early Childhood and Childhood certificates and the SWD Early Childhood and Childhood certificates at the same time.
The shortage of SWD teachers for middle and secondary schools will soon be very severe and not enough appropriately certified teachers will be available to meet the demand.
A 7-12 Generalist teacher of SWDs will be able to provide Resource Room, Consultant Teacher and Integrated Co-Teaching services. Teacher candidates can improve their employability by taking additional academic work to qualify to teach academic courses to students with disabilities who have been placed in self-contained special classes.
Such a flexible system will help meet the staffing needs of many different school building configurations and small elementary schools with only one SWD teacher but the building spans more than one developmental level (e.g., PreK – Grade 5).
There is concern that teachers certified through the Transitional B program may not have the necessary expertise in specially designed instruction and course content instruction to provide students with disabilities instruction in the context of rigorous academic programs. While more students with disabilities are graduating with Regents diplomas, only 43.6 percent of students with disabilities in the 2004 cohort graduated with a regular high school diploma, a significant component of the state’s performance gap. Enhancements to preparation programs specifically targeted at preparing SWD teachers with a range of knowledge and skills in content, pedagogy, and classroom management are needed to improve the growth and achievement of their students to close this performance gap.
In 1999, the Board of Regents endorsed a new structure of certificate titles in general and special education. In 2000, teacher preparation programs began offering programs aligned with the new certificate titles. The new certificate titles took effect with the first cohort of graduates that completed their teacher preparation programs under the newly adopted regulations, after February 1, 2004.
Prior to February 2004, there had been only one special education certificate for teaching students with disabilities Pre-K through Grade 12, in all instructional settings. When these special education teachers taught “special classes” of students with disabilities, for diploma credit, they were required to collaborate with general education teachers certified in the academic subject. The 1999 changes to the special education certificate structure focused on student developmental levels and academic content knowledge, to ensure that special educators had sufficient content knowledge in at least one academic subject. This special education redesign resulted in a four-tiered certification structure that included Students with Disabilities (SWD) Birth to Grade 2; SWD Grades 1-6; SWD Grades 5-9 Generalist and Grades 5-9 content specialists; and SWD Grades 7-12 content specialists.
Supply and Demand
Since the changes to the State certification requirements went into effect, the Department has analyzed data related to the supply and demand of special education teachers and found that there is a shortage of SWD teachers with the appropriate certification to teach students with disabilities in grades 7-12. As we examined the data, the first important data element considered was the grade distribution of students with disabilities within P-12. As Table 1 indicates, the data has been fairly consistent over the last three years. Approximately 54-55 percent of students with disabilities are in the birth to grade 6 range, while 45 percent are within the 7-12 grade range. Yet, for those students selecting special education as a teaching profession, 80 percent are being prepared at the early childhood or childhood level and only 20 percent at the middle or secondary level. This issue is further exacerbated since the 20 percent are divided between the middle childhood level (5-9) and the secondary level (7-12) and further subdivided by academic disciplines.
We have also analyzed the percent of teachers teaching out of their certification area, the turnover rate of teachers and the number of teachers who are newly certified in special education as compared to the number of new hires in special education who are brand new teachers.
With respect to appropriate certification, for early childhood and childhood teachers of students with disabilities, 97 percent have the appropriate certification statewide. This ranges from a low of 94 percent in New York City and a high of 99 percent in many other regions across the State. With regard to middle and secondary teachers of students with disabilities, statewide 92 percent are appropriately certified, with a low of 81 percent in New York City and a high of 99 percent in many of the other regions of the State.
The teacher turnover rate in 2007-08 for special education early childhood and childhood teachers statewide is 7 percent, with a high of 10 percent in New York City. For special education middle and secondary teachers, the annual turnover rate is 4 percent, again with a high of 8 percent in New York City.
The third factor we look at are the number of new (inexperienced) teachers hired by school districts as compared to the total number of new teachers certified the previous year in that area. This analysis lets us compare the number of new teachers prepared to the actual number of vacancies filled by a first year teacher. When the number is high (e.g., five new teachers prepared for each new teacher hired), we project a surplus in that area. However, if we are only preparing one or two new teachers for every vacancy filled by a new teacher, we project a possible shortage in that area.
For special education early childhood and childhood teachers, we project that for 2007-08, there are approximately three teachers certified for every vacancy filled by a first year teacher. This ranges from a low of 1.8 teachers in New York City and 1.3 teachers in the Southern Tier of New York State to a high of 7.8 teachers in the Mid-Hudson region. For special education middle and secondary teachers, we are certifying 1.1 teachers for every vacancy filled by a new teacher. This ranges from a low of 0.5 for the Southern Tier-Central and 0.7 teachers for New York City and the Southern Tier-East to a high of 2.5 for Long Island. Clearly, the data indicates that we are not presently preparing enough teachers to meet our needs in middle and secondary special education.
Challenges and Research Supported Best Practices
The challenge is to redesign the special education certification structure to define a system of credentials and requirements that encourages candidate entry into SWD teaching, at the secondary level, and to ensure rigorous requirements to prepare teachers that support the effective teaching of students with disabilities who are being prepared to meet the learning standards, and to increase the graduation rate of students with disabilities.
Higher graduation standards were adopted in 1996, resulting in more than 13 times as many students with disabilities earning Regents diplomas. For the 2004 graduating cohort, the graduation rate for students with disabilities was 43.6percent. Many students with disabilities who earn Regents diplomas receive instruction from a certified subject area general educator in an inclusive setting, sometimes with support provided by a special education teacher. However, many students with disabilities have intensive needs that result in Committees on Special Education (CSEs) recommending that they receive core academic instruction in a self contained special class. Depending on how school districts design the delivery of special education services, many grade 7-12 special education teachers are assigned to teach three or more core academic subjects in self contained special classes, without evidence that they possess appropriate content preparation. Many of these teachers are not deemed highly qualified in each subject area for which they are assigned to teach. To be more effective, special education teachers assigned to teach special classes in grades 7-12 should have a foundation in each core subject area taught and appropriate academic support from content certified general education teachers.
Two critical questions must be addressed:
1. How, at the adolescence level, will revising the SWD certification structure from a Content Specialist to an Adolescence Generalist result in more candidates entering the SWD adolescence programs?
The Department must aggressively and systemically address this issue through:
a) Increased Recruitment Efforts: The State must take steps to encourage teacher preparation candidates to enter special education at the secondary level. Some states market secondary level special education teacher preparation programs on their teacher websites, ensuring that the information regarding these programs, and the need for shortage area teachers, is readily available. Such information also provides the benefits of entry into special education. For example, the provided information might compare the potential employment rate of SWD 7-12 program completers with the rates of program completers of Childhood and SWD Childhood programs. The State has applied for Race to the Top funds that would be used to provide up to a $30,000 bonus over five years for adolescence level SWD teachers to be employed in high need schools.
b) Continued Alignment with Federal Requirements: Two of the recommendations of the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality report, Navigating Highly Qualified Teacher Requirements for Special Education Teachers: State Challenges and Responses, to state policy makers, were: 1.) to align general and special education teacher certification systems to ensure consistency in the quality of education for all students and; 2.) to design certification structures that parallel the grade level designations of the federal requirements. Beginning at Grade 7, students are federally required to have highly qualified core academic subject teachers. The recommended certification structure allows us to help ensure that newly certified teachers will meet the federal requirements.
c) Focusing on Special Education Preparation: Two unintentional consequences of the 2000 redesign of the special education structure were: 1.) to severely decrease the ability for districts to move SWD teachers between developmental levels and; 2.) to decrease the supply of SWD teachers certified at the adolescence level. When there was only one, all inclusive certification for teaching special education, many new teachers began their careers at the primary and elementary levels, and with time, experience, and additional subject area knowledge, transitioned into teaching students at the adolescence level, without having to earn an additional certificate.
Under a carefully designed special education Adolescence Generalist certificate, proposed candidates will be required to demonstrate academic understanding in four core subject areas to earn the Initial credential. Teacher preparation programs will be focused on, but not limited to, preparing their candidates with a strong understanding of:
The secondary level special educators who do have the desire and ability to teach specific subject content to students with disabilities can do so after demonstrating and documenting appropriate expertise.
d) Develop Additional Pathways: Our Race to the Top application includes funds to prepare SWD teachers in a clinically rich environment, providing continuous opportunities to learn and apply appropriate methodology. Such preparation will better prepare candidates to work in special education at the adolescence level. Research has shown that many special educators become interested in teaching students with disabilities through initial experience as paraprofessionals. Clinically based programs can be developed to recruit candidates from the paraprofessional ranks and we can explore ways to support the entry of such candidates into special education at the secondary level.
e) Promote Existing Pathways that will allow SWD teachers the ability to move into the adolescence developmental level: Presently teachers holding a SWD Childhood certificate have the ability to become certified to teach specific subjects in Grades 5–9 utilizing the supplementary certificate process. Also, currently certified SWD Childhood teachers could get a supplementary SWD certificate in a specific content area at the adolescence level valid for a period of time in which they must fulfill all requirements. Once the SWD certification is restructured, these same pathways would be available for a certified SWD Childhood teacher to become certified as a SWD Adolescence Generalist teacher. Such persons must fulfill all requirements within the three year validity of the supplementary certificate. Preparation programs could be developed to ensure a cohesive course of study to accomplish the transition to SWD Adolescence Generalist certification. The additional flexibility to move amongst the developmental levels of the SWD certificates will expand the pool of SWD teachers able to teach at the adolescence level. SWD childhood teachers will still be permitted to earn an extension to teach specific subjects at the 5-9 level and SWD adolescence teachers will continue to be permitted to earn an extension to teach grades 5-6.
2. How will the Regents ensure that the revised structure prepares teachers to effectively teach to the State’s learning standards?
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) requirements for high standards and learner performance promote excellence in teaching and learning and the expectation of improved achievement for students with disabilities. These two federal laws, more than any time in the past, set expectations for performance that will require special and general educators to work collaboratively to ensure learning results for all students, including students with disabilities. Building teacher effectiveness, knowledge around working with the individualized learning needs and creating an environment conducive to collaboration is essential for ensuring that all students reach their full academic potential. To accomplish this, the revised structure will focus on:
Generalist Preparation: Candidates for the existing SWD Adolescence certificate are required to have a major or the equivalent in one academic content area. The proposed SWD Adolescence Generalist certificate preparation would include completion of a multidisciplinary core of 6 - 9 credits in each of four core subjects (English, mathematics, science, and social studies) in addition to the completion of a general education core in the liberal arts and sciences and the pedagogical core. It is anticipated that most of the candidates will have completed a major in one of the core subjects. Colleges would still be able to register dual certificate programs leading to certification in special education and an academic discipline (i.e., SWD Adolescence Generalist and English). However, the recommendation is to have only one SWD Adolescence Generalist certificate for special education. The SWD Adolescence Generalist will need to take a newly developed CST in the core subjects required for the certification. This test will be rigorous and ensure that the teacher has sufficient core subject knowledge aligned with the expectation of the Department.
The services that a SWD Adolescence Generalist could provide would vary depending on the status of the teacher’s preparation and content knowledge, as indicated in Attachment 2. For example, all SWD Adolescence Generalist teachers would be able to provide resource room, consultant teacher, and integrated co-teaching services; they would also be able to teach a special class of students being assessed with alternate performance indicators.
The extent to which this teacher could teach core academic subjects to a special class is at the heart of the issue. Listed below are the recommended options to allow for certified SWD Generalists to increase their capability to teach core subjects:
Collaboration: The field has told us that schools need to create, and school leaders need to support, an environment that is conducive to and promotes collaboration between general and special education. Collaboration is particularly critical for SWD Adolescence Generalist teachers engaged to teach a special class, where academic content area expertise is essential for student success. The ultimate goal is to develop collaborative relationships that will increase student performance and help close the achievement gap. Research indicates that collaboration works well when there are allocated resources to support it.
Increased Special Education Pedagogy: The field has also indicated that all teacher preparation programs should include additional preparation in special education pedagogy to better prepare general education teachers to teach in an inclusive classroom and to collaborate with their special education colleagues to meet the needs of SWDs in their classrooms. All teachers are expected to be able to understand the diverse learning needs of all students, therefore additional focus at the teacher preparation level is necessary, as well as targeted professional development for existing teachers. As the education community moves toward greater inclusion, general education teachers need an improved foundation in working with students with disabilities. This recommendation aligns with the Professional Standards and Practices Board for Teaching’s (PSPB) position paper of January 9, 2009. The PSPB notes there is “an emerging view by the PSPB that greater emphasis must be placed on preparing all teachers well to serve students with disabilities. This will require enhanced preparation for all teachers.”
Increased Accountability for Currently Existing Alternate Pathways: One of the pathways that currently exists for SWD teachers is the Transitional B pathway. Institutions that offer these programs must ensure that their candidates are better prepared to teach students with disabilities through the use of performance-based assessments. Programs that do not produce high quality candidates would be discontinued or be required to modify their programs to meet the educational needs of student with disabilities, particularly those in New York’s urban centers.
Based on public feedback, research, supply and demand data analysis, and how schools in the State are configured it is recommended that the Regents provide conceptual approval to:
With Board of Regents endorsement, the Department will develop preliminary draft regulations to implement these proposed changes. We would then share this preliminary draft with the field for comments and provide the Board with their feedback. Changes to the certification structure would likely occur in the following estimated time period:
Conceptual Approval of Board .................................................................................. March 2010
Regulatory Changes Approved ........................................................................ September 2010
Date Colleges Need to Reregister Programs ............................................................ June 2011
First cohort of Transitional B teachers can be employed .............................. September 2011
Date first cohort graduates from undergraduate reregistered
college programs ............................................................................................................ May 2015
Date Previous College Programs will have graduated all students .............. September 2017
Summary of Stakeholder Comments
Over the past three years, the Department has sought comment from stakeholder groups to inform recommendations for revisions of the structure of special education certification. There is no consensus between or even within most stakeholder groups. The following summary provides information regarding key issues.
Almost all stakeholder groups:
Most stakeholder groups:
Early Childhood Community:
Universal Preschool Community and Large City School District Pre-Kindergarten Administration:
New York State Middle Level Liaisons Network
Higher Education Community:
School District Administrators:
New York State United Teachers and United Federation of Teachers:
Professional Standards and Practices Board for Teaching:
SWD Certificate and Service Delivery
The following table suggests how a holder of the proposed SWD Adolescence Generalist may be employed.
SWD Adolescence Generalist
Potential Teaching Assignment
SWD Teacher preparation program includes~
-general education core in the liberal arts and sciences; -pedagogical core; -and 6-9 credits in four subject areas
Meets above certificate requirements plus the teacher has 18 credits in the discipline of the (Subject Area) Extension and has passed the Content Specialty Test (CST) for that discipline.
Qualified for assignments 1-5 above.
Additionally, in the area of the Extension, the teacher may teach a special class, however, a certain level of consultation with a fully certified 7- 12 teacher in the same subject area would be necessary.
Meets above certificate requirements plus has Dual Subject Area General Education Certificate
Qualified for assignments 1-5 above.
When teaching a special class in the subject area in which the teacher holds the certificate, there is no requirement that the SWD teacher consult with a fully certified teacher in that academic discipline.