Envisioning the Future of Special Education Personnel Preparation in a Standards-Based Era

By Leko, Melinda M.; Brownell, Mary T. et al. | Exceptional Children, October 2015 | Go to article overview

Envisioning the Future of Special Education Personnel Preparation in a Standards-Based Era


Leko, Melinda M., Brownell, Mary T., Sindelar, Paul T., Kiely, Mary Theresa, Exceptional Children


As part of Exceptional Children's series of Special Feature articles, we were asked to consider the future of personnel preparation and special education. This is a tall order given that personnel preparation encompasses a wide breadth and depth of topics. Thus, we focused our work around one overarching question we believe is essential to consider as we look to the future of special education personnel preparation: What frameworks might teacher educators draw from to promote special education teacher effective performance? In answering this question, we first summarize current trends in the context of schooling and special education (i.e., the Common Core State Standards [CCSS], multitiered systems of support [MTSS]) and what these contexts demand of special education teachers (SETs). As part of this discussion we present a case for why the time is right to shift attention to issues of quality in special education personnel preparation. Next, we present a model for fostering effective SET performance grounded in literature on the science of learning and present approaches and strategies in teacher education that support what we have learned from this literature. We conclude with implications for how special education personnel preparation might be refocused, particularly given current constraints on schools and colleges of education, to better promote this model for fostering effective performance.

What the Current Context Demands of SETs

Today, more than any time in history, SETs are expected to play a role in developing and supporting rigorous content instruction for students with disabilities that is technology-rich. Pressure for students with disabilities and their teachers to meet high standards is evident in a national movement that all students graduate "college and career ready" by, among other things, successfully meeting a rigorous core of content standards for various subject areas (Haager & Vaughn, 2013a). Many states have adopted the CCSS (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010). The CCSS support clear outcomes teachers are expected to teach to ensure students, including those with disabilities, can compete successfully in a global economy (Common Core State Standards Initiative, n.d.). The CCSS provide little guidance to ensure students with disabilities are successful in meeting the demands of a more challenging curriculum, leaving general education teachers and SETs with the task of determining how to provide students with disabilities appropriate instruction that achieves these high goals (Haager & Vaughn, 2013a), including instruction in areas in which teachers may need considerable professional development (PD), such as writing (Graham & Harris, 2013).

At the same time states are adopting more rigorous content standards, they are simultaneously implementing MTSS for preventing academic and behavioral difficulties through high quality, research-based core instruction provided to all students and increasingly intensive, personalized tiers of intervention that incorporate evidence-based interventions when students are unable to respond successfully (Chard & Linan-Thompson, 2008). Although models of MTSS vary, most make use of a minimum of three tiers of instruction and support, with general education teachers holding the majority of responsibility for core instruction at Tier 1 and SETs delivering intensive, personalized instruction at Tier 3 (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Compton, 2012).

To succeed in school contexts driven by MTSS and the CCSS, SETs need to have extensive knowledge of how to support students with disabilities in achieving rigorous content standards. Although it could be argued this requisite knowledge has characterized the work of special educators for quite some time, today's context ups the ante, requiring SETs to be extremely proficient in the content, interventions, assessments, and technology to support students' learning needs (Lignugaris-Kraft, Sindelar, McCray, & Kimerling, 2014). …

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