Skip to main content

Meeting of the Board of Regents | March 2008

Friday, March 7, 2008 - 11:00pm

sed seal                                                                                                 







Johanna Duncan-Poitier




Structure and Content of Students with Disabilities Teacher Certification


March 7, 2008


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 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 Committee for discussion at its March 2008 meeting.


Procedural History


This analysis is a part of the Department’s ongoing review of the Regents teaching policy enacted in 1998. At its February 2007 meeting, the Regents discussed the need to reexamine the special education teacher certification structure. In December 2007, the Regents considered a preliminary proposal informed by a Special Education Work Group charged by the Department, the Professional Standards and Practices Board for Teaching (PSPB), and an internal assessment of the certification structure, trend data and workforce supply research. This report summarizes and responds to feedback from the field that was sought by the Department following the Regents December 2007 discussions.


I.            BACKGROUND


As part of its 1998 policy statement on teaching, the Board of Regents reconfigured the developmental levels of the teacher certification structure. It established four distinct levels for most certificate areas, including special education (SWD—students with disabilities): Birth to Grade 2, Grades 1-6, Grades 5-9, and Grades 7-12. In follow up to the changes, the Department began monitoring the number of SWD certificates issued and examining workforce needs. The resulting data analysis points to a severe shortage of special education teachers at the Grades 7-12 level, as discussed with the Regents 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). It is unlikely that enough new special education teachers are being prepared to meet demand at the secondary level.


The challenge is to revamp the special education certification structure to define a system of credentials and requirements that encourage entry into special education teaching—especially at the secondary level—while ensuring a level of rigor that supports the sound teaching of all students at all developmental levels. Following discussions with the Board of Regents, the Department collected feedback from a number of education leaders and convened a broad-based, advisory Special Education Work Group.




Based on guidance from the Board of Regents, the recommendations of the Work Group, feedback from the PSPB, and the assessment of teacher data, the Department developed preliminary recommendations for a refined certification structure. The proposed new structure would reduce the total number of special education certificate titles from 45 to 3 by:


  • extending the Early Childhood certificate range from Birth - Grade 2  up through Grade 3
  • retaining the Childhood certificate as is, from Grades 1-6
  • creating a singe Adolescence certificate (7-12) to take the place of the 22 certificate titles in Middle Childhood and the 21 Grade 7-12 specialist certificate titles


In addition, the preliminary recommendations included the creation of a Childhood extension for Early Childhood certificates, and Early Childhood and Adolescence extensions for Childhood certificates.


              In December 2007, the Regents considered the preliminary proposal for a revised certification structure and directed the Department to share it widely with the field for comment. Senior Deputy Commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier transmitted a memo describing the preliminary proposal to the P-16 educational community and posted it online to solicit feedback.





Feedback on the proposal is summarized in the attached chart. Responses to the Department’s initial special education proposal were well distributed among three general categories: “support,” “support with additional modification,” and “oppose.”  We have identified the following general categories of concern as we continue the process of working with the field to consider options:



Build Flexibility into the Certification Pathways.


              In general, feedback from representatives of P-12 schools focused on maximizing flexibility in hiring and assigning special education teachers. A few respondents advocated for a return to a single, all-grades special education certificate. Several others suggested a two-certificate structure (e.g., Birth - Grade 6, and Grades 7 - 12). A clear majority of respondents, however, favor retention of a distinct Early Childhood certificate, and retention of a dedicated credential for this developmental level is consistent with the Regents Early Education for Student Achievement in a Global Community policy statement. Some recommended that the 1-6 certificate be extended to include kindergarten. Early childhood educators, however, argued that such an approach would diminish the numbers of individuals pursuing B - 3 certification, negatively impacting the most vulnerable students we serve.


2) Certifications Should Reflect School Building Configurations.


              Several responses to the Department’s proposal reference a disconnect between the way school buildings are configured and the developmental levels defined by the current and proposed teaching certificates. For example, K - 6 schools span two separate certifications (B - 3, and Grades 1 - 6), as do some dedicated middle schools. As a result, some respondents support certificate spans that would allow teachers to be used more flexibly within the full grade range of a given school building.


3) Retain Academic/Content Expertise and Build a Collaborative Model.


              While acknowledging the likely shortage of secondary-level special educators, some respondents argued that special education students must have access to the same level of preparation as general education students.  They recommend that academic specialists in special education be retained to ensure that access.


The Department continues to see the value in having academic content experts teach special education students in special classes, when required. Under the current structure, however, New York State is not producing the number of teachers and specializations needed to realize the potential of the approach.




4) Ensure Highly Qualified Teachers of Students With Disabilities


A number of respondents were concerned that teachers certified under the new system would not meet the "highly qualified" requirement for teachers in Grades 7 -12 (under No Child Left Behind). When a teacher of students with disabilities is the teacher of record for a core academic subject, that teacher must meet “highly qualified” requirements for that subject under NCLB and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Since not all special educators teach in such settings, however, there is no universal need for all teachers of students with disabilities to attain the core academic subject “highly qualified” status.


  • Revised preliminary proposal for additional discussion


In general, the feedback received regarding the proposed restructuring of special education certification was very supportive concerning the need to reduce the number of certificates from 45 to 3. Most respondents agreed that, over time, a certification structure that subdivided special education teachers among 45 separate certificate areas would not meet the needs of students, particularly in middle and high school. However, many respondents raised issues of concern with only three certificate areas. For example, many respondents indicated that the Grades 1-6 certificate should include kindergarten, arguing that many school buildings were configured to include kindergarten through Grades 5 or 6. In addition, there were concerns about specific building configurations, particularly in the middle school area, where a single special education teacher could serve all students within a building. Also, we did receive comments that the developmental areas should be broadened to overlap so that the districts have greater flexibility in assigning teachers for students with disabilities.


The Department appreciates these comments and agrees that there is a need to broaden the ability of teachers of students with disabilities to serve a larger developmental span. In order to achieve this end, we have elected, for the purposes of discussion with the Regents, not to broaden the developmental levels of the certificates, but to consider the creation of a two tier process to ensure that teachers of students with disabilities will be able to teach a greater span of classes over time.


  • First, we are recommending that we move forward with the development of the new B-3, 1-6 and 7-12 certificates in special education.  For 7-12 teachers of students with disabilities, we are recommending an appropriate academic content core and collaborative support to meet the NCLB definition of “highly qualified” for one of the core academic subjects, with the opportunity to become highly qualified in the other core academic subjects within two years.


  • Secondly, we are suggesting, as a possibility, that once a teacher has received a certificate to teach students with disabilities, the teacher could then apply to receive a supplemental certificate to allow that teacher to teach in a new developmental level. For example, a teacher who is certified in Grades 1-6 could apply for a supplemental certificate for the Birth-3 developmental level or the 7-12 developmental level. The only requirement for this teacher to apply for the supplemental certificate would be certification as a special education teacher.


This teacher would then have up to three years to complete additional coursework at that developmental level and ultimately to apply for an initial certificate. In this way, teachers of students with disabilities will be able to broaden their ability to teach other developmental levels through a two-step process. The advantage of this, in the judgment of the Department, is that pre-service programs can remain focused on one developmental level and provide appropriate pedagogical and academic preparation for those teachers. Once that is complete, students would then be able to continue their studies and be certified at other developmental levels in an efficient and expeditious process.


  • Thirdly, general education teachers will continue to qualify for a supplemental certificate in special education with the completion of nine credit hours in special education. We will continue to discuss with the field additional requirements that these teachers would have to meet to qualify for an initial certificate in special education.


We will get feedback from the educational community on these new suggestions to see whether we receive concurrence that such an approach would be both educationally sound and meet the needs for staffing our classrooms in special education both short and long-term.  After receiving this feedback we will come back to the Board of Regents for additional discussion.


  • Strengthen Alternative Teacher Preparation


In the past, the Board of Regents has expressed a strong desire to strengthen alternative teacher preparation (ATP) programs in special education. Such programs have been a significant source of special educators. In 2006-2007, for example, over 50 percent of new special education teachers hired in New York City were from an alternate route. In addition, a number of private schools serving only students with disabilities have relied significantly upon alternative teacher preparation to staff their classrooms with appropriately certified teachers. The comments received from the field focus on the need to strengthen these programs through appropriate mentoring and preservice special education pedagogy and field experience.


Possible Refinements to ATP Programs


To ensure the rigor and success of such an important source of certified special educators, we could draw on elements of the Math Immersion program and require special education ATP programs to incorporate an additional 100 preservice hours, including at least 40 hours of student teaching with special education students. An enhanced special education ATP route could also include the following elements:


  • requirement for more instructional hours in special education pedagogy before the candidate takes on a classroom assignment, including the following key areas of preservice study:


  • behavior and classroom management;
  • universal design and differentiated instruction;
  • lesson planning, co-teaching, and curriculum development;
  • literacy and math instruction, strategies, and assessment;
  • individualized education program (IEP) development, law, and regulation;
  • uses of technology, including assistive technology, in teaching and learning;
  • explicit instruction/use of strategies for learning.


  • requirement for specific standards for collaboration among schools, candidates, programs, and general educators; and


  • an enhanced mentoring component that specifies a weekly minimum number of contact hours appropriate to the phase of the candidate's preparation, with a requirement for mentoring by an experienced special educator.


These ideas for strengthening ATP special education programs would serve as a starting point for discussions with the field. In addition, we have asked our colleagues in VESID to further review this proposal and suggest enhancements to strengthen these programs.  



  • Next Steps


The intensive process of reviewing the special education certification structure continues. Our ongoing work with the field will focus on creating an effective teacher certification system to meet the needs of all special education students.


Consultation: we will continue to consult with teacher preparation programs, school districts, and other relevant organizations as the Regents consider amending regulations and further examine the issues raised in this report, including alternative teacher preparation. We will continue to engage the community of special education providers to identify viable options to implement the collaborative model and to address the unique problems of approved private schools serving students with disabilities. We will also continue to monitor how other states are addressing this issue.


Intensive Teacher Institutes: the Department may explore replicating the existing Intensive Teacher Institutes (ITI) model as another route to special education certification. The original ITI was created to address the shortage of certified bilingual and English as a Second Language (ESL) educators in New York State, and it collaborates with school districts, preschools, and institutions of higher education to assist participants (e.g., through tuition assistance) in meeting certification requirements in designated certificate areas.


              Single Certification Structure: the proposed approach to special education certification works within the existing structure.  It maintains a set of discrete special education certificates, but it also establishes a model that increases collaboration among general and special educators. This model explicitly values the combination of special education pedagogy and academic content knowledge. As schools and teacher preparation programs continue to evolve in their approaches to special education, the Regents may wish to consider the efficacy of maintaining the special education certification model. One alternative would establish a single certification structure that incorporates special education pedagogy into all teacher preparation programs and certifications. This would require careful planning to ensure that State teacher preparation programs can build their capacities to support such a structure. Again, the Department will continue to study this option with our colleagues in New York State and throughout the country.




Based on feedback from the Board of Regents, the field, and staff analysis of the Work Group’s proposals, it is recommended that the Department continue its dialogue on proposed changes to special education teacher certification.


Timetable for Implementation


As the Department continues its dialogue with the field on these proposed changes, we will consider drafting supporting regulations for fall 2008 consideration. If the Regents go forward then to revise special education certification requirements, revised teacher preparation programs could begin as early as the fall of 2009.  We will keep the Board informed of our ongoing discussions.




Summary of Feedback on the Proposed Special Education Certification Structure (through February 22, 2008))


P-12 Comments

Higher Ed Comments

Other Comments

Total All


  • B-3
  • 1-6
  • 7-12 interdisciplinary spec.
  • Extensions for Early Childhood and Childhood Certs

Support as proposed


Support as proposed


Support as proposed



Support/offer modification


Support/offer modification


Support/offer modification

















Alternative Proposals and Suggested Modifications




Grade/certificate span



Extend Childhood to K - 6 (n = 13)


  • "K" students are in the same schools as Childhood students, and they may engage in the same programs
  • Aligns with school configurations

Create B/PK - 6 cert  (n = 5)

  • One cert for general and special education
  • The early childhood/childhood split leaves gaps in service based on the teacher's certification—encourages people to work outside their certification area

Return to K - 12 (n = 4)

  • Provides schools greatest flexibility

Implement overlapping cert. levels , e.g.:

  • B - 3, PK - 6, 6 - 12
  • B - 3, 1 - 6,  6 - 12
  • K - 6, 5 - 12
  • Provides schools flexibility

Retain middle school certification (n = 2)

  • Keep Middle School for general education alone (1)

B - 3 too broad

  • Establish birth - kindergarten certificate

Proposed Extensions

Support extensions only for those who completed registered programs (n = 4)

  • Require practica

Enriched core

18 + 6 each in the remaining 3 areas

  • Avoid saddling candidates with credit deficiencies
  • Include language other than English as core area

Too many credits (n = 5)

  • May discourage candidates, including those with passion for a content area
  • Consider allowing cognates
  • Won’t foster dual (general and SWD) certification

Not a workable solution to achieve Highly Qualified status (n = 2)

  • Consider revising the State's continuum of services for SWD to propose team teaching in a special class setting (CR 200.6)


Other cert. options




Require dual (general ed and special ed) certification for all (n = 5)

  • All teachers need pedagogy and content to teach all children
  • Variation: require dual cert for those teaching Regents exam subjects (1)

Discourage/discontinue transcript evaluation route (n = 5)

  • Disingenuous to tinker with structure without addressing transcript evaluation route
  • Insufficient preparation/"shallow alternative"

Retain the 7 - 12 content specialist (as sole route or as option)  (n = 5)

  • Partnerships between general and special educators are most successful when both teachers have content and pedagogy knowledge
  • Special educators without content knowledge will be marginalized
  • Special ed students must pass State assessments, so eliminating special ed content teachers is counterproductive (2)
  • Promote dual certification (general and special education)

Create a special education endorsement/extension (n = 4)

  • Example: 12 credits plus 2 practica

Establish Intensive Teacher Institutes and distance ed.programs to assist general educator movement to SWD


Eliminate stand-alone SWD certification

  • Competancies and pedagogical development of SWD teachers could be accomplished through a series of core courses in special education

Create subject-area extensions for SWD interdisciplinary specialists


Alternative certification


Focus on TA's as alternative route candidates

  • Base on their experience and require a degree; also extend same path to general education teachers

Implement assessment protocols to demonstrate specific skills


Require candidates to spend at least one summer instructing SWD

  • Many NYC Alt. Cert. SWD candidates teach general education students in summer, before they go into special classes in the fall

Ensure new SWD teachers have mentors with special ed. experience


Other Comments

  • The existing and proposed certification (grade-level) structure does not align with the way schools are structured.
  • Supplementary SWD certificates should require 15-18 credits in special education pedagogy, as opposed to the current 9.
  • Expand the pedagogy content at the 7 - 12 level, not just the academic core.
  • For special class teachers, keep option to use either route to "highly qualified status"—via High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE) or via multisubject CST.
  • Re requiring a second developmental-level certificate: this may decrease the number of viable candidates; would prefer to see requirement that general educators earn special education certification.
  • Collaboration is not practical or even possible for a significant proportion of special ed. teachers who do not work in an environment with generalists--instead teaching in segregated settings (BOCES, private schools, or residential, hospital, or prison settings).
  • Determine if the Federal government will recognize the proposed multi-subject CST for purposes of NCLB.
  • Do not create loopholes for SWD grades 7 - 12 Generalists to achieve highly qualified status (e.g., via examination)—it encourages schools to deny special education students access to general education specialists.
  • Follow the inclusion model, as opposed to collaboration, i.e., with the educator filling both roles as special educator and content specialist.
  • It is important to know whether institutions are committed to establishing new programs at the bachelor's degree level.
  • How will SED assure that general and special educators collaborate?
  • Rather than change requirements periodically, issue temporary waivers of requirements during periods of fluctuations in supply.
  • Candidates should be well versed in scientifically based reading programs and strategies, as well as scientifically based math and numeracy programs.
  • The proposed certification structure should use the terms "inclusive education" and "inclusive certification" (rather than special education) to reflect the collaborative model.
  • Put back in the general education certification requirements a minimum of six credits in special education, with a focus on curriculum, classroom based assessment, and differential instruction.
  • Explore differential pay for special education teachers.





Math Immersion programs require an introductory component of 300 hours, rather than 200 hours, with the additional hours devoted to math content and pedagogy.

This is a simple count of responses; a consolidated/group response is not weighted more than a response from an individual.

In addition to the counts here related to the proposed structure as a whole, over 150 individuals expressed support for revising the current Early Childhood certificate (B-2) to include Grade 3.