Maureen O’Leary
from the field
By Maureen O’Leary Burness
Upcoming changes in credentials for special education

he California Commission on Teacher Credentialing ( has worked diligently over the last five years to update its teacher credentialing system, following multiple recommendations from the California Statewide Special Education Task Force.

The task force made recommendations to address several issues that were uncovered during its work. Reflecting on the recognition that changes throughout the credentialing system would benefit all teacher candidates, the “Teacher Preparation” subcommittee of the task force transformed into an “Educator Credentials and Preparation” subcommittee.
Until the 1990s, credential candidates pursuing a credential in special education had been required to receive a general education credential first, then add on a special education credential. In the late 1990s, CTC updated the Education Specialist credential — the credential allowing a candidate to teach children with individual education programs (IEPs) — to allow candidates to receive that credential alone. The unintended consequence of this decision was that a candidate with the Education Specialist credential was no longer authorized to work with students in general education. In an era where inclusion of students with disabilities in general education is required to the maximum extent appropriate, this needed to be addressed. The task force recognized another facet of this issue — teachers with a general education credential said that their training did not prepare them to appropriately serve students with disabilities. These two problems created a system where inclusion was difficult because of both authorizations and training.
Teacher and students doing arts and crafts
To address this problem, the task force recommended that all general education teachers receive training on working with students with disabilities in a “One System” framework, utilizing Universal Design for Learning practices in a Multi-Tiered System of Support that would serve all students. In addition, the task force members also recommended changes to the special education credential so teachers with that credential would also be authorized to serve more students.

The commission held committee meetings to address the task force recommendations and determine new preparation requirements for all their credentials. General education teachers and others, including administrators, will now be asked to have more information on disabilities and how to serve students with disabilities, in order to help them work with more types of students and disabilities; and special education teachers will now have changes in their preparation to allow them to better serve more types of students.

Changes to the special education credential
In February 2018, the commission adopted a new Preliminary Education Specialist credential structure. In August of that year, the commission adopted new program standards and Teaching Performance Expectations (TPEs) for the credential. All preparation programs are required to transition to these new standards, TPEs and implementation of the Special Education California Teaching Performance Assessment (CalTPA) by the summer or fall of 2022. The earliest date that teachers with new credentials will finish their programs will be spring/summer of 2023.

Beginning in fall 2022, the five new credentials will be:

  • Mild to Moderate Support Needs (TK–22)
  • Extensive Support Needs (TK–22)
  • Early Childhood Special Education (Birth–Kindergarten)
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing (Birth–22)
  • Visual Impairments (Birth–22)

The current education specialist credential authorizing service to students with “Mild/Moderate” needs will be expanded in a new credential termed “Mild to Moderate Support Needs” and the current credential authorizing service to those with “Moderate/Severe Disabilities” will now be authorized to serve students with “Extensive Support Needs.” The Early Childhood Special Education credential that authorized service from birth through preschool will now be expanded to include authorization to serve transitional kindergarten and kindergarten. Due to the unique needs of students with low-incidence disabilities, the credentials for serving students with needs that include deafness or hearing issues will continue to have separate specific requirements under the “Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing” credential. Similarly, the credential authorizing service for those who are blind or have visual impairments will continue as it has been, the “Visual Impairments” credential.

The current “Mild/Moderate Disabilities” credential is authorized to serve students with autism, emotional disturbance, intellectual disabilities, other health impairments and specific learning disabilities. Under the new “Mild to Moderate Support Needs” credential, teachers will be authorized to teach those with all those disabilities as well as those with multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment and/or traumatic brain injury. (The credential also prepares candidates to work with students who are English learners.)

The current “Moderate/Severe Disabilities” credential allows service to those with autism, deaf/blindness, emotional disturbance, intellectual disabilities, and multiple disabilities. Now, with an “Extensive Support Needs” authorization, candidates will also be authorized to provide service to those with orthopedic impairments, other health impairments, specific learning disabilities, traumatic brain injury and English learners.

Teacher and two students doing arts and crafts
A key difference in the new system will be how a child is placed. The difference will be determined in IEP meetings, where the extent of need for time and service(s) of the individual student will determine to which teacher a student is assigned, rather than an assignment being made primarily due to the disability. For example, a student with an Autism Spectrum Disorder may be assigned to a teacher with a “Mild to Moderate Support Needs” credential or to one with an “Extensive Support Needs” credential depending on the impact of the disability on learning. Given the focus at the state and national levels on inclusion in general education settings with general education peers to the maximum extent appropriate, the priority would be to place students with a general education teacher as much as possible, with support from a teacher with the “Mild to Moderate Support Needs” credential as needed. But, where the student’s needs for support are significant — for example, a student who is medically fragile and with an intellectual disability — may more likely benefit from receiving services from the teacher with the “Extensive Support Needs” credential.
Current credential candidates
CTC also created a “Bridge Authorization” plan to give current education specialists options to get the updated credential with new authorizations, if the currently credentialed teacher chooses — current Education Specialists will not be required to earn the bridge authorization.

These options may include additional coursework, professional development or “demonstrated competence.” Approved program sponsors (like university preparation programs or county offices of education) can choose to offer coursework and/or professional development. Such a program must verify that the teacher has satisfied the requirements addressing the identified TPEs that are needed to earn the bridge authorization. This bridge authorization will need regulatory approval.

A letter to employers from CTC Executive Director Mary Vixie Sandy clarifies further information to support any such program operator in its quest to provide the needed supports for the new credentials. Reminders to employers include:

  • Employers of education specialist intern candidates will want to partner with preparation programs so that the interns can meet the new program requirements and teaching performance expectations.
  • Candidates must have a range of experience that reflects the diversity of age and grade levels, and disability categories across the continuum of special education services.
  • Candidates will need to have fieldwork experience in both general and special education settings (release time may be needed).
  • Candidates will be required to take and pass a Teaching Performance Assessment prior to being recommended for the Preliminary credential.

For further information, see CTC’s web page:

Maureen O’Leary Burness is a consultant in special education leadership and retired Co-Executive Director of the California Statewide Special Education Task Force.