Professional Standards News


Initial and Advanced CEC Preparation Standards Approved
The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) has approved the initial and advanced CEC Preparation Standards for special educators. The revised preparation standards will support CEC’s continued leadership in performance-based recognition of special education preparation programs. The CEC Preparation Standards have adopted a structure of seven standards with twenty-eight major elements that bring its structure into alignment with all the professional association partners in NCATE.

Initial CEC Preparation Standards with Elaborations 
Advanced CEC Preparation Standards with Elaborations


Q&A on Unified Accrediting Body
This Q&A is a progress report as NCATE and TEAC make progress on unification into the new Council for the Accreditation of Education Programs (CAEP).


From its earliest days, CEC recognized the significance of professional standards for the preparation quality of educators, and CEC accepted responsibility for developing and disseminating professional standards for the field of special education. At CEC's first meeting in 1922, the establishment of professional standards for teachers in the field of special education was identified as one of its primary aims (Council for Exceptional Children, 2009).

In 1965, CEC held a conference on professional standards. In 1981. the CEC Delegate Assembly charged CEC to develop, promote, and implement preparation and credentialing standards along with a professional code of ethics to guide professional practice. In its current strategic plan, CEC reiterates this commitment to professional standards leadership by identifying the promotion of professional standards that support high-quality teaching and learning as a way to advance the education of individuals with exceptionalities (Council for Exceptional Children, 2008).

In 1988, the CEC Delegate Assembly recognized the relationship between the skills and knowledge with which special education teachers enter the profession and the quality of educational services for individuals with exceptionalities. More recently, the significance of the well-prepared teacher as the within-school variable having the greatest influence on a student’s learning has been widely documented and recognized.

The current emphasis on teacher accountability and high expectations for individuals with exceptionalities continues to make imperative that all special educators are well-prepared, career-oriented professionals with the conditions that allow them to provide individuals with exceptional needs the most effective interventions and that encourage entering special educators to become career-oriented special education professionals (Gersten, Keating, Yovanoff, & Harniss,  2001; Darling-Hammond and Loewenberg Ball, 1997).

In 2002, CEC made it policy that preparation programs, whether traditional or alternative, should demonstrate their alignment with CEC preparation standards through submission to a CEC performance-based review.

In 2012, CEC revised its initial and advanced standards for the preparation of special educators to ensure that entry-level special educators and special education specialists have the skill and knowledge to practice safely, ethically, and effectively and that practicing special educators have effective mentoring.

Preparation of Special Educators

For entry to initial practice as a professional special educator, CEC expects that every candidate possess appropriate pedagogical skills, demonstrate mastery of the liberal arts through a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, master appropriate core academic general and specialized curricula , and Undertake a systematic and structured discipline-specific period of induction (Council for Exceptional Children, 2010).


Historically, pedagogy or teaching skill has been at the heart of special education. From its roots, special educators have placed individualized learning needs at the center of special education instruction. Whether helping individuals with exceptional learning needs master addition, cooking, independent living, or philosophy, special educators have focused on altering instructional variables to optimize learning.

Liberal Arts

While pedagogy is central to special education, special educators must have a solid grounding in the liberal arts -- ensuring proficiency in reading, written and oral communications, calculating, problem solving, and thinking -- demonstrated by holding at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.

Core Academic Subject Matter Content

As well, special educators must possess a solid base of understanding of the content areas of the general curricula (i.e., math, reading, English/language arts, science, social studies, and the arts). This knowledge base must be sufficient to collaborating with general educators, teaching or co-teaching academic subject matter content of the general curriculum to individuals with exceptional learning needs across a wide range of performance levels, and designing appropriate learning and performance accommodations and modifications for individuals with exceptional learning needs in academic subject matter content of the general curriculum.

Because of the significant role that content-specific subject matter knowledge plays at the secondary level, special education teachers routinely teach secondary-level academic subject matter classes in consultation or collaboration with one or more general education teachers appropriately licensed in the respective content area. However, when a special education teacher assumes sole responsibility for teaching a core academic subject matter class at the secondary level, the special educator must have a solid knowledge base in the subject matter content sufficient to assure individuals with exceptional learning needs can meet state general curriculum standards (Council for Exceptional Children, 2010).

Induction and Mentoring

In addition to the three critical elements mentioned above, professionals entering initial practice in special education should receive a minimum of a one-year mentorship during the first year of professional special education practice (Council for Exceptional Children, 2010). The mentor should be an experienced special education professional in the same or a similar role as the individual being mentored who can provide expertise and guided support on a continuing basis. Even with quality preparation, the beginning special education professional faces challenges in applying and generalizing newly acquired skills. Like other professionals, special educators who have the support of more senior colleagues become proficient more quickly and are more likely to remain in the profession (Billingsley, 2006). The goals of the mentorship program must include:

  • Facilitating the application of knowledge and skills learned.
  • Conveying advanced knowledge and skills.
  • Acculturating into the school’s learning community.
  • Reducing job stress and enhancing job satisfaction.
  • Supporting professional induction.

Whenever special educators begin practice in a new area of licensure, they should have the opportunity to work with mentors who are experienced professionals in similar roles. The purpose of mentors is to provide expertise and support to the teachers on a continuing basis for at least the first year of practice in that area of certification. The mentorship is part of continuing education; thus, it is a requirement for maintaining licensure, not a requirement for initial licensure. The mentorship is a professional relationship between the new teacher and an experienced teacher that aids the new teacher in further developing knowledge and skills in the area of certification and provides the support required to sustain the new teacher in practice.

The mentorship is collegial, not supervisory. It is critical that the mentor have knowledge, skills, and experience relevant to the new educator’s position in order to provide the required expertise and support. Thus, it is essential that new teachers practice in environments where mentors are available. Members of the special education profession are expected to serve as mentors as part of their professional responsibilities, and they should receive the appropriate resources and support to carry out this responsibility effectively. The CEC Standards provide that special education teachers should receive mentorships when they begin practice in each area of licensure. Thus, for example, an experienced special educator of individuals with visual impairments who, after the additional preparation, becomes credentialed to teach individuals in early childhood should receive a mentorship during the first year of practice in early childhood in order to maintain the credential in early childhood special education.

Preparation Standards and Specialty Sets

Among the sine qua non characteristics of mature professions are the identification of the specialized knowledge and skill and the assurance to the public that practicing professionals possess the specialized knowledge and skill to practice safely and effectively (Neville, Herman, & Cohen, 2005). Through credentialing of professionals and professional recognition of preparation programs, the public is assured that practicing professionals have mastered the specialized skills for safe and effective practice.

In the most recent revision of its initial and advanced special education Preparation Standards, CEC joined with other professional associations in using a common structure of seven standards with not more than twenty-eight major elements. While the seven standards and major elements describe the specialized knowledge and skill to practice safely and effectively at initial and advanced levels, CEC uses specialty sets to address the specialized content, issues, vocabulary, interventions, settings, etc. for a variety of specialties with special education. In its approach to specialty sets, CEC uses a rigorous consensual validation process (CEC Validation Study Resource Manual, 2010).

Each CEC Specialty Set documents the professional knowledge base, including empirical research, disciplined inquiry, informed theory, and the wisdom of practice in an accompanying Literature Report. The consensual validation process has actively involved the leadership from the specialty, as well as thousands of practicing special educators (teachers, administrators, and teacher educators) in coordination with the CEC Knowledge and Skills Subcommittee with representation of the 17 divisions within CEC. The result is rigorous and comprehensive sets of specialty knowledge and skills for the preparation of quality special educators.

Up until 2012, CEC used Initial Content Standards to describe in rich narrative the specialized skills that all special educators bring to initial special education practice. In 2012 CEC analyzed the rich narrative content standards into seven preparation standards and twenty-eight essential elements with which preparation programs align program assessments of special education candidates for CEC Professional program recognition. The Preparation Standards adopted in 2012, are similar to the previous CEC Content Standards in the use of the specialty sets to inform and differentiate the content, context, and issues of the respective specialty areas (e.g., early childhood, mild/moderate, developmental disabilities, and learning disabilities) and provide the validated knowledge and skills that special educators must master for safe, ethical, and effective practice.

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