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Meeting of the Board of Regents | December 2007

Saturday, December 1, 2007 - 9:00am

sed seal                                                                                                 







Johanna Duncan-Poitier




Structure and Content of Students with Disabilities Teacher Certification


November 28, 2007


Goals 1, 2, 3, and 4






Issue for Discussion


Should the Board of Regents revise the structure and content of Students with Disabilities teacher certification (which currently contains 45 separate certification titles) to increase the supply of effective special education teachers, particularly at the secondary level?


Reason(s) for Consideration


Review of Policy.


Proposed Handling


This item will come before the Higher Education and Professional Practice Committee for discussion at its December 2007 meeting.  On the recommendation of Vice Chancellor Tisch, the Department will separately review the effectiveness of alternative preparation routes to special education teacher certification while moving forward on the revision of the certification structure.  The Department will return to the Regents with a proposal on those matters after consulting with the field.


Procedural History


This analysis is a part of the Department’s ongoing effort to review the Regents teaching policy enacted in 1998.  At its February 2007 meeting, the Committee discussed the need to reexamine the special education teacher certification structure with regard to teacher preparedness and supply.  This item follows up with a preliminary proposal informed by the guidance of the Board of Regents, the Special Education Work Group charged by the Department following the Board's February 2007 discussion, and an internal assessment of the certification structure, trend data and workforce supply research.


Background Information


In 1998, the Regents approved their policy statement on teaching, “Teaching to Higher Standards: New York’s Commitment.”  As a part of its new policy, the Board reconfigured the developmental levels of the teacher certification structure.  Before the changes, general education certificates were either PreK-6 or 7-12, and there was one special education certificate title, PreK-12.  Under the new structure, the Regents established four distinct levels for most certificate areas, including special education (SWD—students with disabilities) certificates: Birth to Grade 2, Grades 1-6, Grades 5-9, and Grades 7-12.  To become certified to teach students with disabilities, teacher candidates must complete all studies required of a general education teacher at the same certificate level, in addition to special education pedagogy requirements.  The purpose of that structure is to ensure that students with disabilities have access to special education teachers who are academically qualified to teach to the State learning standards.


              The Department has been monitoring the number of SWD certificates issued and examining how it relates to workforce needs since the inception of the new certification policy.  Our data analysis points to a severe shortage of special education teachers at the Grades 7-12 level, as discussed with the Regents Committee in February 2007.  Nearly one-half of students with disabilities are in Grades 7-12, yet in 2005 less than 20 percent of new special education teachers were certified in Grades 5-9 or 7-12 (combined).  As a result, it is unlikely that enough new special education teachers are being prepared to meet demand at the adolescence level. This disparity between supply and demand is exacerbated by the fact that special education teachers are limited to the subject area and grade level of their certificate (e.g., SWD Grades 7-12 Chemistry); they are only eligible to serve a small fraction of students with disabilities at the adolescence level.  


Following discussions with the Board of Regents, the Department collected feedback from a number of education leaders and convened the advisory Special Education Work Group.  The Work Group consisted of 33 individuals representing District Superintendents, special education administrators, higher education leaders, the Professional Standards and Practices Board for Teaching, special educators, the New York City Department of Education, the State Education Department, and advocates for students, parents, and teachers, including representatives from the following organizations:


  • BOCES District Superintendents
  • The City University of New York
  • Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities
  • Council of New York Special Education Administrators
  • Metropolitan Center of Sinergia, Inc.
  • New York City Department of Education
  • New York State Alliance for Children with Special Needs
  • New York State Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educators
  • New York State Association for the Education of Young Children
  • New York Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (NYACTE)
  • New York State Association of Teacher Educators (NYSATE)
  • New York State Federation of Chapters of the Council for Exceptional Children
  • New York State United Teachers
  • Professional Standards and Practices Board for Teaching
  • School Administrators Association of New York State
  • State University of New York


 The Work Group focused on how to both ensure the quality of special education teachers and define a certification structure that encourages entry to the field.  Based on the guidance from the Board of Regents, the recommendations of the Work Group, and the assessment of teacher data, the Department proposes a refined certification structure.  The following table compares the current and proposed special education certificate structure.  The proposed new structure reduces the total number of special education certificate titles from 45 to 3.


Current SWD Certification Structure


SWD Certification Structure

Birth - Grade 2 (Early Childhood)

Birth - Grade 3

Grades 1-6 (Childhood)

Grades 1-6


  • Childhood extension for Early Childhood certificates
  • Early Childhood and Adolescence extensions for Childhood certificates

Grades 5-9 generalist and subject specialists (Middle Childhood)—22 certificate titles


Grades 7-12 subject specialists (Adolescence)—21 certificate titles

Grades 7-12 generalist (with enriched academic core)


Basis for the Recommended Certification Structure


The Department considered a number of options to streamline the certification process based on supply and demand data discussed with the Regents in February and ongoing feedback from P-12 schools and teacher preparation programs.  The Department's proposal, as summarized in the preceding table, was informed by the following considerations:


  • Retain the current Early Childhood special education certificate, but extend the coverage of this certificate to Birth to Grade 3.

  • Retain the Childhood special education certificate as currently structured, covering Grades 1-6.

              The Department initially considered a move towards a more inclusive Birth to Grade 6 (B-6) special education certificate.  Likewise, some members of the Work Group and the field advocated extending the Childhood (1-6) certificate to K-6 to afford schools and teachers greater flexibility.  Early Childhood advocates on the Work Group, and others in the field, however, strongly support retention of the Early Childhood certificate (currently B-2). They argued that level-specific strategies for teaching young children are critical to build a foundation for later achievement.  They also indicated that a B-6 certificate would likely force the merger of early childhood/childhood preparation programs, reducing critical content at both levels.  In recommending the retention of the Early Childhood certificate, they indicated that the Department should expand that certificate to include the third grade (B-3). 


Based on evidence provided for Regents consideration, the Department proposes to retain the early childhood certification level and expand it to include the third grade.  That change would make the certification structure consistent with the typical range defined for the "early childhood" developmental area  (e.g., by the Board of Regents in its Early Education for Student Achievement in a Global Community policy statement, the New York State Council on Children and Families, the National Association of State Boards of Education, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children).


  • Establish a Childhood special education extension for Early Childhood SWD certificates, and both Early Childhood and Adolescence special education extensions for Childhood SWD certificates.


As PreK-12 certified special educators continue to retire from school systems, elementary schools that have employed a single special education teacher could be faced with the prospect of hiring two teachers (both an early childhood and a childhood teacher) to replace that individual -- or stretching the assignment of a single teacher beyond compliance.  In anticipation of that situation, the Department proposes certificate extensions that will allow certified Early Childhood special education teachers to teach at the childhood level and certified special education Childhood teachers to teach at the early childhood level.  The Regents could consider mandating those extensions as part of the requirement for earning Professional certification in the base certificate.  The extension approach will be more attractive than the dual-certificate model because it will not require simultaneous preparation for two teaching certificates, thus allowing new teachers to begin their careers sooner.  In addition, elementary schools will find a larger population of individuals qualified to teach the full range of students they serve.  Likewise, a 7-12 extension for certified Childhood special educators would provide another potential source for adolescence-level special education teachers.  The Department will explore different approaches to help ensure that a well-grounded extension from special education 1-6 to special education 7-12 can be completed in a timely manner.


  • Eliminate Middle Childhood certificates (generalist and subject areas)

  • Replace the current, subject-specific special education Adolescence certificates (Grades 7-12) with a single, special education Adolescence generalist certificate that will include an enriched academic core.

 To address a shortage of special educators at the secondary level, Work Group members in general favored some variation on a Grades 5 - 12 special education certificate that would combine the existing middle childhood and adolescence certification levels.  Advocates of that certificate point to its flexibility (particularly for staffing middle schools), and they maintain that the emphasis on content areas takes shape at the Grades 5-6 level; they also note the precedent of the existing Grades 5-12 Literacy certificate. Other Work Group members, however, argued that the 5-12 span is too broad.  From their perspective, extending the Adolescence certificate down to Grades 5 and 6 would compromise the ability to meet the needs of all students.  They argue, for example, that developmental delays in students in Grades 5 and 6 call for instruction by teachers with childhood-level expertise. 


Based on data, need, and feedback shared, the Department suggests that alignment with the general education grade levels be maintained and proposes to create a SWD Grades 7-12 generalist certificate.  Relative to the existing structure, this will maximize flexibility for employers and streamline options and preparation for teacher candidates.  This action would eliminate 43 middle childhood and adolescence certificate titles in favor of a single certificate  This configuration has the advantage of offering flexibility and alignment with the general education structure, tenure areas, and grade spans defined for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  These generalists would be qualified to fill the most common special education teacher roles in Grades 7-12:  consultant teachers, resource room teachers, providers of integrated co-teaching services, and teachers of record in self-contained classes in which all students are being assessed against alternate performance indicators for State assessments.


While the Department proposes to eliminate the subject-specific special education adolescence certificates, it is important to ensure a solid foundation in core content areas aligned with the State learning standards.  The proposed special education 7-12 generalist certificate would require an enriched academic core as follows:


  • a minimum of 18 credits in one of the four core content areas (math, science, English, and social studies); and
  • at least 9 credits in each of the remaining three core areas. 


This academic core (a minimum of 45 credits, total) for the 7-12 generalist would be in lieu of the subject-specific content core that is now defined for Adolescence special education candidates.


This change shifts the emphasis of the teacher preparation program to special education pedagogy while encouraging a broad but substantive grounding in academic core subjects.  Candidates who are completing a typical liberal arts and sciences curriculum should be able to accommodate that enriched academic core.  The Department believes this requirement will give special education generalists a foundation for the content knowledge that will lead to effective collaboration with their general education subject-specialist colleagues and enable them to teach to the State learning standards.  SWD 7-12 generalist teachers -- serving in self-contained, core-academic-subject, special education classrooms -- would be required to collaborate with certified subject area general education teachers. This recommendation would require a rethinking of the general education core for all candidates.


Special education teachers with the SWD 7-12 generalist certificate will offer schools flexibility, but they must have the pedagogical skills and content knowledge to effectively teach students with disabilities in special classes.  To ensure that these teachers are "highly qualified" to teach core academic subjects as required by NCLB and IDEA, the Department is considering various options. 


One option is to develop a secondary level multi-subject Content Specialty Test (CST) that candidates must pass (along with the Students with Disabilities CST) to demonstrate that they are highly qualified to teach core academic subjects.  These teachers would collaborate with general education content area teachers when teaching core academic subjects as a special class to students with disabilities. 


A second option is available if the candidate passes a subject area CST.  The subject area CST and SWD CST would ensure that the teacher is prepared to teach one core academic subject.  These special education teachers would use other means permitted under NCLB and IDEA to demonstrate content competency for other core academic subjects they are assigned to teach.


Related Actions


              The proposed certification structure highlights related issues that could be addressed as the Regents revisit special education certification:


  • Collaboration


The teaching model that underlies the proposed special education generalist certification supposes routine collaboration between special education and general education teachers.  Collaboration between special education generalists (Grades 7-12) and general education content specialists (Grades 7-12) will allow special education teachers to build the breadth and depth of their content knowledge and instructional strategies.  The following are examples of activities that could be used to define and document collaboration in support of the proposed certification structure:


  • reviewing appropriate State learning standards
  • analyzing State and local subject area assessment data
  • mapping curriculum to State learning standards
  • reviewing/developing lesson plans
  • sharing instructional materials
  • curriculum development
  • peer coaching
  • sharing information from research and professional development activities
  • discussing and applying peer reviewed and scientifically based instruction


To ensure the effectiveness of that model, such collaboration must be more explicitly defined in the pedagogy requirements in both general and special education teacher preparation programs.  Likewise, to ensure a more immediate impact, the Department should consider the need to direct existing teachers to engage in professional development in special education/collaboration. 


  • General and Special Education Alignment

If the Board establishes a B-3 special education certificate, the Department should consider modifying the general education Early Childhood certificate to extend through grade three as well.  Similarly, the Department may consider eliminating general education middle childhood certification to align with the proposed special education certification structure.  Special education certificate grade levels should align with the general education structure, across the board.


  • Autism Content

A law signed last year requires all special education teachers to have "coursework or training in [the] area of children with autism."   Existing regulation describes the need for content in "teaching students with mild, moderate, severe, and multiple disabilities," but the Department is assessing the need to amend regulation to implement the noted law.


  • Incentives

The Department and the field should identify other ways to encourage teacher education candidates to pursue SWD 7-12 certification, since most candidates continue to seek certification at the elementary level.


  • Teacher Preparation Programs

The Department has consulted with institutions of higher education about the need to adjust special education certification and have received agreement that to better serve students with disabilities in P-12, changes in the certification structure are needed.   Institutions that prepare teachers may need to adjust their programs if the Department implements the proposed new certification structure.  With Regents endorsement of the proposal, we will work closely with impacted institutions and others in the field to build-in a reasonable transition period to the new certification structure.  This will include consultation with preparation programs as the Department prepares to amend regulations as well as ongoing outreach to inform programs and candidates once the new structure is implemented.


  • Certification Exams

If the Department adjusts the certification structure, we will need to reconsider the content and structure of the New York State teacher certification examinations.


  • Span of Assignments

As the Department takes a comprehensive look at special education preparation and certification, we should consider the need to further limit the age span of students with disabilities who may be grouped together in a special class at the 7-12 level.

  • Multiple Certificates

Since special educators holding the old PreK-12 certificates will be retiring in increasing numbers, the Department must also consider ways to encourage the movement of certificate holders at one developmental level to another developmental level -- and the movement from general education to special education.  The Department is currently examining options to encourage teachers to seek additional certificates (e.g., expanding supplementary certificates, endorsement possibilities, etc.) 




Based on feedback from the Board of Regents, the field, and staff analysis of the Work Group’s proposals, it is recommended that the Board of Regents endorse the policy direction on possible changes to the structure and content of special education teacher certification.


Timetable for Implementation


If the Board of Regents endorses changes in the special education teacher certification structure, the Department will draft needed regulations for discussion and action.  Revised traditional-route teacher preparation programs could begin as early as the fall of 2009.