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Certification, Attrition, and Student Impact

Certification and Student Impact Title Image

Alternative certifications have called into question the quality of teachers on provisional or emergency licensure (Rosenberg & Sindelar, 2005).  Along with the review of teacher quality, a review of teacher attrition rates amongst these ARC certified teachers has been examined.  While the definitions of attrition vary, Billingsley (1993) defined attrition as teachers who leave the teaching profession with no indication of return.  There are multiple reasons that teachers leave the teaching field (Billingsley, 2004; Mastropieri, 2001; Gersten et al., 2001).  However, the strongest indicator of special education teachers leaving the teaching field is certification status (Billingsley, 2004; Metzke, 1988; Lawrenson & MeKinnon, 1982; Brownell & Smith, 1992).  Miller et al. (1999) reported that in their study of 1,000 Florida teachers, those identified as having emergency certification had a higher level or attrition than fully certified teachers.  In their study of 20 first year special education teachers, Nougaret, Scruggs Mastropieri (2005) suggest that there is a correlation between emergency certified teacher perception of preparedness and their rates of attrition.  Since teachers on provisional or emergency certification have not completed traditional special education teacher preparation programs, their perceived preparedness has a lasting impact on their job satisfaction and their decision to continue teaching (Brownell & Smith, 1992).

Brownell, Smith, McNellis and Miller (1997) report that special education teacher turnover has devastating effect on establishing high quality education programs for students with disabilities.   Along with frequent teacher turnover, placing inadequately prepared special education teachers in classrooms has demonstrated a reduced achievement levels in students with disabilities (Darling-Hammond & Sclan, 1996).  Researchers have used research in the field to demonstrate that teacher preparation does impact student’s achievement (Billingsley and Bettini, 2017).  Feng and Sass (2013) found that completing a traditional special education certification route (e.g. teacher preparation program) had substantial effects on improving students with disabilities academic gains.  Researchers also indicated that special education teachers certified through traditional teacher preparation programs were more likely to apply pedagogical knowledge to instruction (Feng & Sass, 2013).  This application of pedagogical knowledge, behavior management skills, content knowledge and individualization applied in instruction by fully certified teachers was significantly more effective that teachers certified through ARC programs (Rosenberg, Boyer, Sindelar, & Misra, 2007).


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Billingsely, B. & Bettini, E.  (2017).  “Improving Special Education Teacher Quality and Effectiveness”.  In Kauffman, J., Hallahan, D., & Cullen Pullen, P. (2nd Ed.).   Handbook of special education (pg. 501-521).  New York, NY: Routledge.

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Brownell, M. T., Smith, S. W., McNellis, J., & Miller, M. D. (1997). Attrition in special education: Why teachers leave the classroom and where they go. Exceptionality, 7, 143–155.

Gersten, R., Keating, T., Yovanoff, P., & Harniss, M. K. (2001). Working in special education: Factors that enhance special educators’ intent to stay. Exceptional Children, 67, 549–567.

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Mastropieri, M. A. (2001). Is the glass half full or half empty? Challenges encountered by first year special education teachers. The Journal of Special Education, 35, 66–74.

Metzke, L.K. (1988). A study of the causes of teacher attrition in regular and special education in Wisconsin (Doctoral dissertation, Marquette University, 1988). Dissertation Abstracts International, 42, 42A.

Miller, M. D., Brownell, M., & Smith, S. W. (1999). Factors that predict teachers staying in, leaving, or transferring from the special education classroom. Exceptional Children, 65, 201–218.

Nougaret, A. A., Scruggs, T. E., & Mastropieri, M. A. (2005). Does teacher education produce better special education teachers? Exceptional Children, 71, 217–229.

Rosenberg, M. S., & Sindelar, P. T. (2001). The proliferation of alternative routes to certification in special education: A critical review of the literature. Arlington, VA: The National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education, The Council for Exceptional Children.

Rosenberg, M. S., Boyer, K. L., Sindelar, P. T., & Misra, S. K. (2007). Alternative route programs for certification in special education: Program infrastructure, instructional delivery, and participant characteristics. Exceptional Children, 73 (2), 224-41.