TCTA testified against a proposal being considered by the State Board for Educator Certification at its Dec. 8, 2023, meeting to require special education teachers teaching content to take an additional content certification test.
The Texas Education Agency recently determined that a long-standing rule allowing special education teachers teaching content to demonstrate competency via HOUSSE was no longer allowed under federal law. The current rule provides that “If an individual is providing content instruction in a special education classroom setting, a valid certificate that matches the subject and grade level of the assignment is also required, or the individual must demonstrate competency through the state's 2010 and 2011 high objective uniform State standard of evaluation (HOUSSE) for elementary and secondary special education teachers.”
TCTA participated in several stakeholder meetings held by TEA about how to address the situation. TCTA urged that TEA allow as much flexibility as possible for new special education teachers, grandfather current special education teachers, and provide specificity to the field about exactly what types of instructional settings any new requirements would apply to. For example, new requirements should not apply if a special education teacher provides reinforcement of the core academic instruction (e.g., via management of a Content Mastery Center) to students with disabilities whose core academic subject areas are taught by a highly qualified general education teacher.
Although TEA’s proposal is still evolving, information presented to SBEC at its Dec. 8 meeting distinguishes among the requirements based on whether a special education teacher is teaching content on grade level or only teaching pre-requisite skills, and whether the teacher is at the elementary or secondary level.
TCTA testified that under current SBEC rules, ALL certified special education teachers could demonstrate competency via HOUSSE, a part of which includes college coursework in the core academic subject area or closely related field, so, at a minimum, that option should be available to ALL special education teachers, regardless of which grade level or whether teaching on grade level. TCTA also testified that the option of either passing the applicable PACT exam OR having college coursework in the applicable content area or closely related field should be available to ALL special education teachers.
TCTA pointed out that differentiating requirements between all the different grade levels was overly complicated and much more restrictive than the current rule. In addition, TEA defined “secondary level” more narrowly (grades 9-12) under the proposal than it has traditionally done (grades 6-12), thereby limiting the most flexibility to only a very narrow situation.
TCTA warned that with the current shortage of special education certified teachers, adding an additional hurdle to educators who have already fulfilled all the requirements to become special education certified was extremely short-sighted and would likely drive some of these educators out of the profession or discourage potential educators from considering pursuing special education certification. TCTA argued that at a minimum, existing special education teachers should be grandfathered from any additional requirements.
In response to TCTA’s testimony and others, SBEC members expressed an interest in retaining many of the components of HOUSSE for special education teachers, including college coursework, professional development and years of experience in the subject taught as a way for these teachers to demonstrate subject competency.
Additionally, the board expressed particular interest in developing a standard of subject matter competency that would be workable for certified special education teachers teaching pre-requisite skills while at the same time meeting the federal standard of ensuring that special education students are able to access grade level content.
Given this direction from the board, TEA staff indicated that they would meet again with stakeholders to make another attempt to come up with a standard for special education teachers to meet, with plans to bring back a revised proposal to SBEC for discussion at its February 2024 meeting.
TCTA plans to continue to be involved as a stakeholder in helping to develop a new proposal that balances any new requirements with the realities of the current circumstances for our special education teacher members.