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Meeting of the Board of Regents | March 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009 - 8:30am

Sed seal                                                                                                 






Higher Education Committee


Johanna Duncan-Poitier




Structure and Content of Students with Disabilities Teacher Certification


March 9, 2009



Goals 1, 2, 3, and 4






Issue for Discussion


Should the Board of Regents revise the structure of the Students with Disabilities certification to increase the supply of special education teachers?


Reason for Consideration

              Review of policy.


Proposed Handling


This item will come before the Higher Education Committee for discussion at its March 2009 meeting. 


Procedural History


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, and March 2008 Committee meetings, you discussed the structure of special education teacher certification. Your discussions were informed by comments from institutions of higher education, local education agencies, BOCES, professional associations, the Department’s Special Education Work Group, and others. The Department has continued to seek feedback from the field (including an October 2008 memo to interested parties) to identify options that are both educationally sound and financially responsible.


Background Information


Currently, there are 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 (generalists and academic content specialists), and Grades 7-12 (academic content specialists). While the approach to prepare special education teachers in both an academic discipline and in special education was well received, the practical implication is that it resulted in 45 separate special education certificates.   The challenge was to prepare enough teachers in all 45 separate certificate areas.  


              The Department has monitored the number of SWD certificates issued and examined how that data relates to workforce needs. Our 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. As illustrated in the following chart, school districts have faced particular challenges in employing appropriately certified teachers for students with disabilities in the middle and secondary grades.

not available at this time

              P-12 student enrollment and teacher education program completer data suggest the challenge at the secondary level will continue. While 47 percent of P-12 special education enrollment in 2006-07 was in Grades 5 through 12, only 12 percent of SWD teacher education program completers that year were prepared to teach to students in that span. The supply of entering SWD secondary teachers is further fragmented by the academic disciplines in which they are prepared to teach. Between 2004-05 and 2007-08, 80 percent of the Grades 7 – 12 special education certificates issued to new special educators were in English or social studies, which further worsens shortages in other disciplines.


              This troubling trend comes at a time when students with disabilities are showing academic gains. As reported to the Regents in September 2008, the number of students with disabilities earning a Regents diploma in the 2006-07 school year was 5,843, or a 9 percent increase over the prior year alone. In addition, more than 11 times as many students with disabilities earned a Regents high school diploma in 2006-07 than did in 1995-96. Action is needed to ensure that a well-prepared teaching workforce will continue to be available to support the achievement of students with disabilities.     


              The attached report, The Structure & Content of Students with Disabilities Teacher Certification (March 2009), summarizes the Department’s proposals and feedback received from the field. Building on our initial thinking, we have made many changes as a result of comments from the field. We conclude the report by proposing a solution that seeks to balance flexibility with educational soundness. Key provisions are summarized in the following table comparing the existing and proposed structures:


Current SWD Certification Structure

Proposed SWD Certification Structure

(March 2009)

Birth - Grade 2 (Early Childhood)

Birth – Grade 3

Grades 1-6 (Childhood)

Pre-K (age 3) – Grade 6

  • Supplementary certificate allows all certified teachers to work toward certification in another certificate area.
  • Enhanced SWD supplementary certificate route to help certified special educators move to other SWD developmental levels.
  • Use existing supplementary route for general education teachers.

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

(eliminated for SWD titles only)

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

Grades 7-12 generalist with multidisciplinary core (6-9 credits in four subjects); if not “Highly Qualified,” will collaborate with general education teacher.

(not required)

Strengthen collaboration skills of general and special educators.

(not required)

Strengthen general educators’ preparation in teaching students with disabilities.





With Board of Regents endorsement, the Department will develop preliminary draft regulations to implement these proposed changes and share them with the field before the development of draft regulations for the Regents consideration in fall 2009. 

The Structure & Content of Students with Disabilities Teacher Certification

(March 2009)


The Department has developed a proposal to address the structure and content of special education teacher certification. Data suggests that it is unlikely that enough special education teachers are being prepared to meet demand at the secondary level. In developing a proposal, the Department has sought strategies to ensure the supply of qualified special educators at all levels. It has also considered the needs of school districts, which must administer a complex instructional delivery model in a way that is both educationally sound and financially responsible. The following principles have guided the Department over the two-year evolution of this proposal:


  • There must be enough teachers at all levels to serve students with disabilities.
  • Special education teachers must continue to receive the appropriate academic preparation and support to enable them to teach all students with disabilities to the Regents Learning Standards. 
  • The certification structure must meet the needs of all instructional delivery models, including inclusive classrooms, self-contained classrooms, and resource and consultant teacher models.
  • The special education teacher certification structure must be transparent and practical in implementation at the school level.
  • Fluidity is needed among the developmental levels to allow teachers to begin their teaching careers in the elementary grades and to move to secondary-level assignments as their careers mature.
  • To the extent practicable, the certification structure must align with Federal IDEA and NCLB requirements.


In addition, the Department considered the certification structure in other states:


Table: Special Education Structure in other States – Comparable States and All-States Comparison


Certificate Types









Total # of States with this certification structure

Pre School/N-K









Early Childhood






















































K-12; N-Grade 12; All Grades











The following table illustrates how the proposal described in this report has evolved in response to field comments and current issues:


Current SWD Certification Structure

December 2007 Proposed SWD Certification Structure

March 2009 Proposed SWD Certification Structure

Birth - Grade 2 (Early Childhood)

Birth - Grade 3

Birth – Grade 3

Grades 1-6 (Childhood)

Grades 1-6

Pre-K (age 3) – Grade 6

  • Supplementary certificate allows all certified teachers to work toward certification in another certificate area.
  • SWD Childhood extension for Early Childhood certificates
  • Early Childhood and Adolescence extensions for Childhood certificates
  • Create the following enhanced SWD supplementary certificates:
  • SWD Childhood supplementary for Early Childhood SWD holders
  • SWD Early Childhood supplementary for SWD Childhood holders
  • SWD 7-12 generalist supplementary for SWD Childhood holders—for consulting/resource room
  • SWD 5-6 supplementary for SWD 7-12 holders
  • SWD 7-8 supplementary for SWD K-6 holders
  • Use existing supplementary route for general ed. teachers.

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


(eliminated for SWD titles only—retain for general education)

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

Grades 7-12 generalist (with enriched academic core)

Grades 7-12 generalist with multidisciplinary core (6-9 credits in four subjects); if not “Highly Qualified,” will collaborate with general education teacher.

(not required)

(not defined)

Strengthen collaboration skills of general and special educators.

(not required)

(not defined)

Strengthen general educators’ preparation in teaching students with disabilities.




              Based on the guiding principles, consideration of other states’ practices, and the education community’s input, the Department proposes the following seven recommendations for consideration by the Regents.





  • Expand the SWD Early Childhood range to Birth to Grade 3.




Increase by one grade level the range of students with disabilities that may be taught by certified Early Childhood teachers.


Reason for Recommendation:


At the national level, the definition of early childhood is Birth to Grade 3, which would align New York State with the national trend and the range recommended by experts.  The early childhood community was almost unanimous in supporting this recommendation. In addition, it will expand employment opportunities for Early Childhood teachers of students with disabilities and allow schools employing them a greater range of options in teaching assignments. This change should be made to the general education certification structure as well.



  • Expand the SWD Childhood range to include Pre-K and K.




The current SWD Childhood certificate allows a teacher to teach students with disabilities in Grades 1-6.  We propose to expand that range downward to include Pre-K (three and four year olds) and Kindergarten. There is no consensus among stakeholder groups on this proposal.


Reason for Recommendation:


In general, the P-12 sector favors this proposal as a means to improve flexibility in assigning teachers. As noted in the Department’s March 2008 report, representatives of P-12 schools would like to build flexibility into the certification pathways. Likewise, we heard from them that the certification structure should reflect the grade spans around which schools are typically organized.


Various stakeholder groups favor this downward expansion for a variety of reasons: to lessen shortages of SWD preschool teachers; to align the certification structure with the evolving structure of elementary schools and the State’s learning standards; and to allow school districts more latitude in deploying teachers.


  • Early childhood advocates that work with students with disabilities in approved private schools, including "4410 schools" (preschool age) and "853 schools" (school age), favor the expansion since it should lessen shortages of teachers for preschool children with disabilities. They do not believe the expansion would have a negative impact on the early childhood education field; students with disabilities receiving early intervention services would continue to need teachers with the SWD Early Childhood certificate. 


  • The Department’s Office of Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education favors the proposed change; it aligns with the structure of the State learning standards. The development of Pre-K learning standards for this grade level is underway and will be aligned with the Department’s Standards Review Initiative. 


In 2006, the Regents initiated P-16 educational reform to make the systems and structures needed to close the achievement gap transparent. One strategy of the reform initiative is to ensure a solid educational foundation that will allow young children to be successful learners as they progress through the grades. Pre-K is an integral part of this big picture. Currently, 452 of 677 school districts are implementing Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) programs. We expect the number of districts implementing UPK programs will continue to expand in 2009-10 and beyond.


  • Public school districts tend to strongly favor this expansion. Many commented that the change would give them more latitude to place their childhood special education teachers where they are needed - and allow them to react nimbly, in a financially responsible manner, to changes in grade-level needs. 


Some early childhood advocates oppose this proposal. Many early childhood advocates at institutions of higher education, for example, believe that expanding the certificate downward would jeopardize the early childhood certificate, as it would be less attractive to candidates planning on public school employment. In addition, they believe the Pre-K to Grade 6 span is too expansive to appropriately prepare teachers to meet the developmental needs of that range of students. They believe the pedagogy required for the younger students in the proposed range is significantly different from that required for the older students in that span.  


The Department has carefully considered the arguments of those concerned that an expanded Childhood certificate could compromise Childhood preparation, Early Childhood programs, and Early Childhood certification. With the addition of enhanced supplementary certificate routes for special educators (see item 6), the Department will create an opportunity for early childhood educators to expand their certifications and compete for a broader range of teaching positions. The Department also recognizes that existing programs preparing candidates for Childhood certification will need to be redefined to include age-appropriate pedagogy and teaching.


Provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provide 1 and 1.1 billion dollars, respectively, for Head Start and Early Head Start programs. This suggests there will be a continuing demand for individuals with focused preparation and certification in the early childhood developmental level. In addition, it appears Title 1 Grants in the Act will include some funding for early childhood programs and activities.


If the Board of Regents endorses the development of a PreK-6 certificate for teachers of students with disabilities, consideration should also be given to developing a PreK-6 certificate for Childhood general education teachers.



  • Recast the SWD Adolescence (7-12) credential to create a single SWD Adolescence Generalist certificate that includes a multidisciplinary core.




Candidates for the existing SWD Adolescence Certificate are required to have a major or the equivalent in one academic content area. We propose to consolidate 21 certificate titles at the Grades 7-12 level into one Grades 7-12 SWD generalist certificate. Preparation for this certificate would include completion of a multidisciplinary core of 6 - 9 credits in each of four core subjects (English, mathematics, science, and social studies).  Colleges would still be able to register dual certificate programs leading to certification in special education and an academic discipline (i.e., 7-12 special education and English). However, the recommendation is to have only one 7-12 certificate for special education.


Reason for Recommendation:


Data from New York’s teacher preparation programs shows that insufficient numbers of candidates are being prepared to specialize as secondary SWD teachers. The pool is further fragmented across 21 certification areas, many of which are poorly represented in the preparation pipeline. As a result of shortages in the number of SWD teachers at the adolescence level, adolescent students with disabilities are in danger of being underserved. Likewise, the focus on one content area has limited the ability of recently certified special education teachers to work in a variety of academic areas, as is often required for special education teachers.


The Department believes the generalist approach should broaden the pool of potential secondary-level SWD teachers. The multidisciplinary core will provide these teachers with a solid base for subject specialization should the individual (or the employer) seek such specialization. Teachers certified as Grades 7-12 generalists who do not attain “Highly Qualified” status through demonstrated academic content-area expertise will be able to work in special classes in strong collaboration with general education content experts.



4. Strengthen requirements for collaboration.




Strengthen the collaboration skills of general educators and special educators alike by requiring more preparation in working collaboratively to meet the needs of students with disabilities.




Reason for Recommendation:


Given the variety of settings in which special education services are delivered, the need for flexibility in assigning teachers, and the Department’s commitment to ensuring the academic success of students with disabilities, it is essential to support and reinforce collaboration as a responsible tool to address the complex needs of students with disabilities. Collaboration will be 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 co-teaching relationships that will increase student performance and help close the achievement gap.



5.     Strengthen requirements for understanding the needs of students with disabilities.




                In general education teacher preparation programs, require additional preparation in teaching students with disabilities.


Reason for Recommendation:


              This proposal complements the goal to build the collaboration skills of all teachers. Just as special educators have academic content preparation that strengthens their ability to collaborate with general educators, general educators should have an improved foundation of knowledge in working with students with disabilities. Collaboration between general and special educators, in a variety of settings, will be bolstered when each teacher has a framework of understanding in the other’s area of expertise, in addition to her/his own expertise.


As the education community moves more toward an inclusive approach to special education, general education teachers will need an improved foundation in working with students with disabilities. The Department will need to survey the education community to determine how we can best accomplish this goal and support quality inclusive instruction. This recommendation aligns with a statement in 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.” (A summary of key points in the PSPB’s position paper appears later in this report.)








  • Expand movement between students with disabilities certification and retain the current path for general educators to become certified special education teachers.




                The Department proposes to create enhanced supplementary certificate routes to maximize the movement of certified special education teachers to a contiguous SWD certification area. Existing certification routes would remain available to help certified general educators transition to SWD certification.


Reason for Recommendation:


                Enhancements are needed to encourage the appropriate use of supplementary certificates. Such certificates can be a vehicle for special educators to expand the developmental levels in which they are certified. This will benefit teachers and school administrators alike; teachers will have expanded assignment opportunities, while employers will benefit from having a pool of certified teachers who can be deployed flexibly. Most importantly, students will benefit by having multiple certified SWD teachers who will be drawing on a depth of preparation, practice, and experiences.



  • Eliminate the SWD 5-9 certificate.




                Eliminate the middle childhood developmental level as a distinct certification area within the SWD band of certificate titles. This certification level would be retained, however, as part of the general education series of certificates.


Reason for Recommendation:


                Middle childhood SWD certifications have been underutilized. As we move to defragment SWD certification to ensure a sound supply of teachers certified to teach beyond grade 6, it makes sense to discontinue a series that has contributed relatively few practitioners to the workforce and which further fragments the supply of special educators. In addition, observations in the field suggest that those certified at the middle childhood level have been at particular risk of being inappropriately assigned.


                To continue support for the variety of middle-grade school configurations, however, the Department is recommending the establishment of two SWD supplementary certificates that will cover the Grades 5–9 span:


  • SWD Grades 5-6 supplementary certificate for certified SWD Grades 7-12 teachers; and
  • SWD Grades 7-8 supplementary certificate for certified SWD Grades Pre-K-6 teachers.



Professional Standards and Practices Board for Teaching (PSPB)


              The PSPB has considered the Department’s previous proposals and the Senior Deputy Commissioner’s October 2008 memo to the field. In a January 9, 2009 position paper, the Standards and Practices Board provided a number of comments on the certification structure, including the following:


  • The PSPB supports the concept of establishing three levels of certification for teachers of students with disabilities. Consistent with the Department’s proposal at the time of the position paper, the PSPB recommended a Birth – Grade 3 certificate, a Grades 1 – 6 certificate, and a single Teaching Adolescents with Disabilities, 7-12 certificate.


  • The PSPB noted there will be variations in the use of the single Adolescence certificate. Individuals certified in a secondary subject, or eligible for certification in such a subject, could qualify for the SWD Adolescence certificate and serve as teachers of record in their subject field.


Alternatively, those without that preparation in a secondary subject could complete a multidisciplinary content core (described as a minimum of nine credits in at least three subject areas). Those individuals would be able to serve in co-teaching and other arrangements that would not require them to be the teachers of record. The Board also generally endorsed the use of the existing supplementary certificate structure to assist certified SWD teachers in the move to contiguous SWD certifications.


  • The PSPB recommended that an SWD annotation be created for special subjects (e.g., art, health, music, etc.) and Career and Technical Education teachers.


  • The PSPB also commented on approaches to re-registering existing certification programs, pathways to certification, alternative teacher preparation programs, and incentives for colleges and universities to design new programs to prepare secondary-level teachers. The Department will continue to seek the PSPB’s advice, including feedback on the proposal described in this report.

















Summary of Feedback on the Proposed Special Education Certification Structure (March 2008 Regents item)


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



Summary of Comments in Response to October 2008 Field Memo on Selected Special Education Certification Options


Use of Supplementary Certificates:




Responders (n = 21)

Higher Ed

Responders (n =16)


Responders (n = 3)

1.  Students with disabilities to students with disabilities

Generally supports the use of supplementary certificates to allow certified students with disabilities teachers at one developmental level to move to a different developmental level.  If moving to the adolescence level, need coursework to prepare them to teach academic content.  

Many commented that the focus of the additional coursework should be on literacy for the developmental level and special education specific pedagogy.




Many institutions of higher education (IHEs) do not feel supplementary certificate requirements are rigorous enough.  Additionally, some of those believe that they should only be available at the contiguous level for those already holding students with disabilities certificates.  Others supported, provided the scope of practice of the supplementary certificate be limited to not teaching a special class.  


Two responders opposed. The third respondent recommend that early childhood and childhood students with disabilities teachers have nine core content credits in  one academic subject  before getting the supplementary certificate and that upon receipt the teacher should receive required mentoring.  To progress from the supplementary to initial certification the recommendation was to have 24 credits of which 6 are in each content area and pass CST for content area(s).

2.  General  education teachers  to students with disabilities teachers

Generally support the use of supplementary certificate to allow general educators to move to students with disabilities, although some recommended more credit hours than proposed.  Concern was expressed about ensuring that general education teacher understand special education pedagogy.  Many school district personnel provided specific curriculum recommendations such as including the following: assessment, literacy, special education laws and regulations, behavior management, writing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and instructional modifications.  Other recommended there be required fieldwork/practicum prior to receipt of a supplementary certificate for teaching students with disabilities.

Some IHEs supported issuing supplementary certificates to general educators as they move into special education and provided specific recommendations for pedagogical and content specific requirements.   These included, but were not limited to:

additional behavior management, foundations of special education, assessment, diagnosis and evaluation of students with disabilities, instructional strategies, literacy skills at the developmental level and managing the environment of SWD.

Others were entirely opposed to general educators taking this route to become special educators and believed that the credits as proposed should be  higher

 (minimum of 18 credits) or that these teachers should go through existing pathways to become students with disabilities teachers.

There was little support because they believed that nine credits are not enough to prepare a general educator for special education.

One commented that currently a certified general education can get their special education through transcript evaluation with 12 credits.

One supported the proposal but only for shortage areas and if the teacher were to earn

credits in developmental literacy, positive behavioral supports, moderate/severe disabilities and autism prior to receipt of the supplementary certificate.










Mostly endorsements of a general secondary certificate, rather than a dedicated special education certificate, or not subject specific.

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.