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Special ed certification changes adopted

A new state law will change state certification for special education teachers, allowing them to hold a single certificate to teach students from pre-K to 12th grade (or age 21), beginning after Dec. 31, 2021. It will also require the Pennsylvania Department of Education to improve public data available on teacher certification.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 82 of 2018 into law in October, after then-state Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, shepherded the legislation through the General Assembly. PSEA and Phillips-Hill worked together on the legislation to address teacher shortage areas and ensure that policymakers can make data-informed decisions in the future to combat the shortages.

“This is a complex subject, but an important one, and PSEA worked hard to improve the certification process for the betterment of our members, students, and school districts,’’ said PSEA Treasurer Jeff Ney.

Currently, there are two special education certificates, one to teach in pre-K through eighth grade and another for teachers in grades seven through 12 (or students up to age 21).

Under the new law, special education teachers applying for certificates after Dec. 31, 2021, will be awarded the single pre-K to grade 12 (or age 21) certificate.

After that date, teachers with pre-K to grade eight or grade seven to grade 12 certificates will be able to expand their certificates to include the grade levels they aren’t currently certified to teach. The Department of Education will design a process for teachers who want to expand their certificates.

Act 82 also requires the education department to provide the public and education stakeholders with data on teacher certification on an annual basis. Stakeholders have complained in the past about difficulty in obtaining information about certification.

Additionally, the new law requires the education department to notify all individuals holding an early childhood certificate  (pre-K-4) that they can expand their certificate to include grades 5 and 6 via a PRAXIS assessment that was made available a couple years ago.  Teacher preparation programs will be required to notify future candidates for early childhood certification of this option on a form developed by the education department in the future.