Development and Design of a Merged Secondary and Special Education Teacher Preparation Program

May. 15, 2011

Source: Teacher Education Quarterly, Volume 38, No.2, Spring 2011

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article describes the process used by cross-department faculty to develop the program design and components and how program evaluation led to revisions that strengthened the program.

Collaborative Program Development

In 2004, three secondary education faculty members from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and four faculty members from the Special Education Department began discussing their concerns about secondary teacher preparation.
Curriculum and Instruction faculty described the need for teacher candidates to be adequately prepared to teach students with the range of learning needs found in secondary classrooms, and in particular, how to support struggling readers and English Language Learners (ELL).

Purpose and Goals of the Program
The overall purpose of SDEP is to develop strategic teachers with the versatility to meet the learning needs of all secondary students.
The faculty identified what they wanted graduates of the program to be able to do.

Merging Special and Secondary Teacher Education
Once a shared vision and program goals were developed, the faculty team engaged in a curricular mapping process to examine and then merge the separate programs in a way that would achieve these goals and meet licensure requirements in special and secondary education.

Program Description

SDEP is a full-time two-year graduate program culminating in licensure as a secondary educator in a content area, with authorization to teach mid-level and/or high school, secondary special education, and a Masters in Education (M.Ed.) degree.

Important Components of the Merged Secondary Program

Several components of SDEP have been important to establishing a merged secondary program.
These include collaborative leadership and administrative support, preparation for teaching the full range of students with disabilities, school district partnerships and field experiences, and aligning performance assessments with program goals.

Collaborative Leadership and Administrative Support
Collaborative leadership is the core of SDEP, whose faculty invest the time to understand one another’s approaches to teaching and learning.
The program is led and managed by co-cohort leaders from special education and secondary general education who are committed to striving for a common goal, parity, and mutual respect.
Together SDEP cohort leaders establish partnerships with school districts for field placements, advise students, consult with faculty and supervisors, and monitor students’ progress.
In the authors' experience, several administrative supports were vital to implementing a merged program.
Most importantly, the dean strongly endorsed the creation of a merged secondary teacher licensure program.
Although resources are not available to pay full workload credits for co-teaching courses, faculty work assignments are arranged to enable collaboration.

Preparing Candidates to Teach a Full Range of Students with Disabilities
The special education component of merged programs is sometimes limited to experience with students with mild and moderate disabilities and does not include students with significant disabilities.
Merged programs may offer multiple options to candidates who wish to prepare for working with students with more significant disabilities.
Although the emphasis in SDEP is preparing to teach students with no or mild disabilities, SDEP candidates complete coursework and field experiences in assessment and instruction for students with significant disabilities.
Candidates develop and teach an individualized functional skills program embedded in natural school routines.

Partnerships with School Districts and Field Experiences
From the beginning stages of development, SDEP faculty collaborated with school district partners to create placements that supported merged teacher preparation.
When designing SDEP, faculty envisioned a content area teacher and a special educator in the same school serving as joint cooperating teachers over two or three quarters.
To date, a range of placements across multiple districts are used, such as placement across a self-contained special education classroom and content area classroom, to placement in a school implementing full to partial inclusion and varying degrees of co-teaching.

The cohort leaders and placement coordinator continue to seek appropriate field experiences and build a corps of SDEP graduates to mentor future teacher candidates.
In particular, sometimes districts had implemented full inclusion without adequate professional development for veteran teachers in the areas of differentiation and universal design.

Performance Assessment That Reflects Program Goals
As a reflection of the program goals, SDEP work samples consist of the following components:
(1) description of the learning context and a learning profile of the specific students within the instructional group;
(2) development of differentiated unit objectives and goals as a result of careful assessment of learning needs;
(3) explicit inclusion of literacy strategies and technology;
(4) development and implementation of pre/post assessment tools;
(5) instructional plans that include daily reflection and regular progress monitoring;
(6) data summary and analysis of learning gains; including disaggregation of learning outcomes; and
(7) overall reflection of the teacher candidates’ learning.
Feedback is thus provided to candidates that specifically targets their areas of strength and areas for improvement.
These assessments help faculty to identify where individual candidates need support or where the program needs revision.

Program Evaluation and Revision

Because faculty were merging preparation in secondary and special education for the first time, faculty wanted to evaluate and improve the program design as needed during the early program cycles.
SDEP faculty implemented an evaluation plan to gather information from multiple sources and viewpoints regarding the effectiveness of SDEP in preparing teachers that reflected the program goals.
Supervisors provided feedback on the quality of field experiences.
SDEP faculty analyzed candidate work samples and other assessments to determine if desired outcomes were in evidence.


After five years the quest to develop strategic teachers with the versatility to meet the learning needs of all secondary students continues.
Next steps include: developing more field placements that support program goals, building a program portfolio of how candidates and graduates in different disciplines meld differentiation with subject-matter pedogogy, and documenting how principals have created hybrid positions to utilize SDEP graduates in school reform.
The authors' experience suggests that merging secondary and special education pedagogy into one coherent program that is co-led and co-taught can result in teachers with a different approach to and skill set for secondary teaching.

Updated: Mar. 27, 2017