Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Why Special Education Advocates Are On Edge Over New Teacher Licensing Rules

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

A public school teacher in Indianapolis leads a math class.

Becoming a teacher is no longer a matter of earning an education degree. College graduates are taking more alternative tracks into teaching that don’t involve going back to school for another four years.

But some colleges of education worry a change to Indiana’s teacher licensing rules could make it too easy to earn credentials to teach special education students.

Special education advocates are worried that college graduates without proper training could end up teaching in special education classrooms. But alternative certification advocates say training doesn’t necessarily make the teacher.

Indiana’s State Board of Education will likely consider the amendments to the state’s teacher licensing regulations this fall.

But special education advocates at school of education across the state say the new rules open up a pathway for a college graduate without formal training to become a teacher, so long as he or she can pass a certification exam.

“People think we’re babysitters. It’s one thing to stay with a student, or stay with a child, but it’s another thing to make an impact.”
—Kharon Grimmet, IU School of Education

The pathway doesn’t lead to a full teaching license. But — so long as the teacher can earn “effective” ratings from their school district for three out of five years — special education advocates say he or she could keep a teaching job while holding a credential called an “adjunct permit.”

That’s of special concern to Kharon Grimmet, a former special education teacher, now an associate instructor at Indiana University’s School of Education. She says that bar is too low for those wanting to enter the profession.

“If you really want to be a teacher, let’s do it right,” Grimmet says. “Come and learn and get training and allow us to guide you.”

But Arthur McKee, managing director of teacher preparation studies at the National Council on Teacher Quality, says it’s not clear that training makes for more effective teachers. McKee says formal education school instruction doesn’t necessarily make teachers more effective, or help their students learn.

“We can’t justify raising the bar too high simply to keep people out, simply because we want to pat ourselves on the back and say ‘Oh, we’ve done something to help kids.’ Well, not necessarily,” McKee tells StateImpact. “If we’re asking people to learn things that aren’t effective, then we’re not helping anybody.”

So long as you have a system to support new teachers, McKee says, those teachers don’t need degrees in education to be effective. He adds teachers should be able to pass an exam on the science of reading in order to get certified.

Indiana’s new teacher licensing requirements tie into a new evaluation system for teachers. Starting next year, state law requires Indiana districts to rate teachers’ effectiveness on a four-point scale.

Indiana Department of Education spokesperson Stephanie Sample says the state’s universities haven’t put enough focus on preparing prospective teachers to perform under that system.

“We just have a lot more data that we didn’t have before, we have more tools to use to help students learn and make teachers better. And we want our Schools of Ed to start using those tools,” Sample says.

Judgment Calls

Teacher Cindi Pastore, who’s taught for 33 years in the Adams-Wells Special Services Cooperative, says she draws on her formal training daily to help her guide students’ growth — from finding ways to communicate with non-verbal students with autism to working with students with severe physical handicaps.

For instance, on one Monday afternoon, Pastore is working on a state evaluation for a student in a Life Skills course. The student is not on a track to earn a high school diploma, but instead earn a Certificate of Completion.

Pastore works with Adams Central Junior-Senior High teacher Deanna Myers, who sees the student on a daily basis. Sitting at Myers’ computer, Pastore logs onto a state website as boxes pop up on the screen. Together, Pastore and Myers have to check the proper box, indicating the degree to which this student measures up to state standards.

The distinctions they have to make can be tough. For example, Pastore and Myers have to determine whether the student is a “fluent” in a mathematical concept — like counting — or “demonstrates understanding of” that concept.

“We can’t justify raising the bar too high simply to keep people out, simply because we want to pat ourselves on the back and say ‘Oh, we’ve done something to help kids.’ Well, not necessarily. If we’re asking people to learn things that aren’t effective, then we’re not helping anybody.”
—Arthur McKee, National Council on Teacher Quality

Another example: A box on the screen asks Pastore and Myers whether the student can tell time on an analog clock. Yes, they conclude. What about to every five-minute interval? Yes. What about to the minute?

“I’m guessing that’s not where he is at,” Pastore concludes.

“Yeah, I agree,” Myers adds.

Knowing which box to check is a judgment call. Pastore says she relies on her training to help her make it, especially with special education students.

“There’s a whole range of things that come into play when you’re planning for a student that a person just coming in off the street would not necessarily take the time to know,” Pastore says. “They would just go in and say, ‘Oh, yay, I’ve got this kid making progress!’ You’ve got to know what you’re making progress towards.”

IU instructor Kharon Grimmet says the training these teachers have gotten to make these calls is important. She bristles at the idea that an education degree isn’t proper training for a teaching position — and says she feels like teachers aren’t given professional respect.

“People think we’re babysitters,” Grimmet says. “It’s one thing to stay with a student, or stay with a child, but it’s another thing to make an impact.”

If teachers need to be rated on their effectiveness, Grimmet says, they need training to know exactly what “effective” means.


  • Jenny Robinson

    Teachers in training should have courses on child development and should have the chance to study/shadow experienced teachers. Do the proposed changes require any coursework specific to child development and disabilities/special needs in children? Would a new teacher be able to go to work in a classroom without ever having spent significant time in a special education classroom?

    • StateImpact Indiana

      A couple things to illuminate here:

      (1) Coursework: Not to my understanding. The certifications exams in the different licensure areas haven’t been written yet — that’s what makes the IU SOE worried. What McKee argues is that teachers ought to be able to pass a test on the science of reading (by which I assume he implies some child development material, but not coursework).

      (2) The content-area exams aren’t courses. But the state says they’re rigorous and not easy to pass. Teachers truly have to be able to demonstrate mastery of the subject.

      (3) On the time-in-classroom question: This question, actually, is largely left up to the schools of education. The schools of education are the ones who determine how much student teaching time Ed majors need to earn their degrees. It’s the degree, then, that determines whether they can be licensed… The only thing the state requires (***for a full license) is that a teacher passes through an accredited program and passes a content-area exam…

      (4) Some of Indiana’s universities require a lot of student teaching time. Some require a little student teaching time. And if you divide out the alternative certification options — the ones where degree-holders can go back to a school of education to become a teacher — there are two programs (Butler and Purdue North Central) that don’t require any student teaching time.

      (4) *** The thing that worries special ed advocates, again, is this “adjunct permit” — the credential, they say, that would allow for teachers who have a college degree and can pass an exam. It’s NOT a full license. That point can’t be stressed enough. The teacher will be required to earn effective ratings for 3 out of 5 years to continue to teach otherwise the permit gets revoked.

  • Cindipastore

    And what exactly is the NCTE about? Here’s a piece about them-

    I think they are all about deprofessionalizing true educators and derailing quality education for ALL students. I think it’s despicable that the NCTE apparently believes that students with special needs don’t deserve to have the most well trained, well educated people that can be found to teach them. I can attest to that both my undergraduate and graduate studies were invaluable to me throughout my career.
    Cindi Pastore

    • Kgrimmet

      Cindi, I AGREE!!!

    • Ray Palasz

      Cindi, the link you posted is about NCTQ, the National Council on Teacher QUALITY. You called them NCTE, which is an acronym for the National Council on Teachers of ENGLISH. You had me worried for a moment, because as an English teacher, I thought my organization had betrayed me! But thanks for an enlightening read!

      • Cindipastore

        Ray, I’m so sorry! Didn’t mean to ruin the reputation of all the very fine English teachers that i know and know are out there! (-: My sincere apologies!

  • lruich

    Here are further concerns that worry parents and special education advocates regarding REPA II:

    (1) A proposal that would certify teachers across a broad age span, yet given the diversity in the learning needs of children with disabilities, these teachers would be expected to have the capacity to teach students across a broad spectrum of abilities from preschool to high school affirmed by a P-12 license. Currently, distinct K-6 & 6-12 licenses not only address the developmental pathways of these children, but also their specific needs & abilities. Under the proposed changes, this would be eradicated.

    (2) University preparation programs that include both field and course work specific to the teaching competencies needed to effectively teach students with disabilities are endorsed by professional organizations and enable graduates from teacher preparation programs in Indiana to receive a teaching licenses across the nation. Ensuring that Indiana teacher licensure is reciprocal with other states is important to the economic health future of higher education in Indiana. What would eventually happen to those with Indiana licenses is — the license would only be good in Indiana and possibly a very select few states. Most states look at the transcripts and/or very extensive portfolio evidence to decide whether another state’s license will hold up as equivalent in their state — not minimal coursework and some “test.” Indiana’s proposal will not hold water in many other states

    (3) Replacing university preparation programs with a standardized test of content knowledge in special education is insufficient to determine that beginning special educators are ready to teach. Research demonstrates that students with disabilities who are taught by fully certified and highly qualified special educators (based on the NCLB definition) have higher student achievement than students taught by uncertified teachers (Feng & Sass, 2012).

    (4) National professional organizations including the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), and other professional organizations outline standards that guide evidence-based practices in special education. These national organizations accredit teacher preparation programs so as to ensure high quality teacher preparation across the nation. It is essential that Indiana continue to follow the guidance provided by these organizations. It is critical to maintain the status of special educators as professionals.

    If you would like further information regarding the impact REPA II proposes, please attend Education Forum 2012 at IU Bloomington’s School of Education Auditorium on Tuesday, March 27 @ 7 p.m. Free parking is available in the Jordan Garage parking lot and childcare will be provided for families. If you are unable to attend a live broadcast will be streamed via

  • Kgrimmet

    As I was reading this article, the IDOE’s response struck me as interesting…“We just have a lot more data that we didn’t have before, we have more tools to use to help students learn and make teachers better. And we want our Schools of Ed to start using those tools,” Sample says.
    First, I would like to know “what” data they have…that they are “using.” Second, I find it ironic because if the “data” they are referring to deals with evidence-based practices…those practices COME FROM SPECIAL EDUCATION RESEARCH…and therefore is a product of SCHOOLS OF EDUCATION! Hmm…food for thought!

  • Phil Harris

    The discussion about how to judge the effectiveness of Teachers needs to be driven by how we define teaching and effectiveness. We simply can’t make much progress until we take the time to discuss what we want these terms to mean. As long as we depend on a number to judge teaching and learning we are going to always be on the search for the next highest number. As long as we think we can measue learning with a standardized test we will always be looking for a new test that reports to measure better. This is chasing an impossible dream.

    This new effort on the part of the state is to try to reduce the cost of education at all levels. The leadership at the state level is not being honest with the public in pursuing the changes.

  • lruich

    I think it is well worth noting and not revealed in this report, that the NCTQ founded in 2000 supports a more market-sensitive approach to the structure of the teaching profession. This think tank is part and parcel of the privatized, market-based ideology that is flying under the radar and claiming itself as legitimate research ( e.g., see As readers we need to be sensitive to the proponents who are bent on dismantling public education and who they cite as research (e.g. NCTQ). Such analysis & validity claims has a purpose driven agenda to qualify intention that comes full circle. In essence, the convergence of a driven agenda feeds itself, thereby purporting itself to be legitimate.

  • Steph

    In response to a comment made by Iruich…I am currently working on my degree in Special Education/Mild Interventions P-12 from IU South Bend.We are required to take courses focusing on early,middle and adolescence stages of development and teaching methods. We are also required to do practicums and student teach in all these areas as well. I feel that after leaving the program my fellow classmates and myself will be prepared to enter the classroom just as teachers under the old news were…

    • lruich


      That is great that IU SB is taking steps to address P-12 development. Yet, a critical concern is that under the REPA II proposal, students like yourself will not be obligated to experience the rigors of courses” focusing on early, middle and adolescence stages of development and teaching methods” inclusive of a field practicum in special education. Under REPA II, a student with a baccalaureate may pass a standardized exam related to special education thereby certifying oneself capable of teaching students with variant needs. Note, courses pertinent to special education (e.g. proactive classroom management, assessment, etc.) will be irrelevant to the license. With this structure in place, school district administrators will in effect determine proficiency of this type of pseudo-special educator based on district measures and student academic outcomes. Consider your knowledge prior to courses you have taken related to special education and field experience, then ask yourself would you have been prepared to address an IEP, partner with parents, collaborate with paras/teachers, and individualize your instruction to student strengths and needs? These are only several targeted practices required of a special educator in a P-12 setting. Lastly, take on the role of a parent whose child has an IEP and inform them that you only took a test for special education sans coursework and field experience related to special education. I think you would agree Steph that such an educator working with your child would raise alarming questions and concerns. Thank you for letting me explicate my concerns, and I wish you a successful career in special education.

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