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How to Get a Special Education Certification

Written by: Wilson College   •  Jan 31, 2024
A Special Education Teacher Sits on the Floor With Two Students in a Classroom.

How to Get a Special Education Certification

The number of public school students in prekindergarten through 12th grade who receive special education services is growing. According to a 2023 Pew Research report:

  • In the 2010-2011 school year, 6.4 million students (13% of public school students) received special education services.
  • In the 2021-2022 school year, 7.3 million students (15% of public school students) received special education services.

As the population of special education students grows, so does the need for qualified special education teachers. To do their best work, special education teachers need to continue to expand their expertise and learn new ways to maximize their students’ potential. One way for teachers to do this is to pursue a special education certification. In seeking to earn a certification, teachers can enhance their skills, better serve their students, and even advance in their careers.

Individuals who are considering enrolling in a Master of Special Education degree program should learn about certifications in special education and the related benefits for both teachers and students.

What Is a Special Education Certification?

It’s important to distinguish between a teaching certificate and a special education certification. Specifically:

  • A teaching certificate (also referred to as a teaching license in some states) is a credential that a state requires an individual to obtain prior to entering the teaching profession. Teachers typically earn a teaching certificate by completing a series of steps that includes passing standardized or state-specific exams. Teachers of all kinds, including special education teachers, need to have a teaching certificate.
  • A special education certification is an additional credential that special education teachers can earn voluntarily to showcase their expertise. A special education teacher needs to satisfy certain eligibility requirements and pass an exam to earn one of these certifications. Earning a certification in special education demonstrates that an individual possesses specialized knowledge and skills. It also reflects the individual’s dedication to special education and desire to serve students by acquiring additional expertise.

Types of Special Education Certifications

Individuals can choose from a number of special education certifications. For example, the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) offers the following certifications:

  • Board Certification in Special Education (BCSE). This certification demonstrates competency in a range of areas such as special education assessment, responsiveness to interventions, and critical concepts in special education.
  • Board Certification in IEP Development (BCIEP). This certification reflects competency in developing and implementing individualized educational programs (IEPs) for special education students.
  • Board Certified Inclusive Education Specialist (BCIES). This certification is evidence of an individual’s expertise in inclusive education that can serve diverse groups of students.
  • Board Certified Advocate in Special Education (BCASE). This credential shows that an individual has expertise in acting as an advocate for special education students and their parents so that the students receive all the services and protections they are entitled to under the law.

Steps to Get a Special Education Certification

Knowing how to get a special education certification is important for individuals who want to enhance their special education credentials. The steps in that process are outlined below.

1. Earn the Degree Specified in the Certification’s Eligibility Requirements

Candidates for the BCSE certification need to have earned a graduate degree (a master’s degree or higher) in a subject that involves students who have special needs. For example, a candidate who has earned a Master of Special Education degree or a master’s degree in special education administration meets this requirement.

Candidates for the BCIEP certification need to have earned a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in their field, while candidates for the BCIES certification need to have earned a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in education.

The BCASE certification has no specific educational degree requirements.

2. Prepare for and Pass the Certification Exam

To earn the BCSE, BCIEP, BCIES, or BCASE certification, candidates need to pay the required fees and submit the application to take the certification exam.

Candidates need to learn about the various modules (or topics) that the exam covers to know what to study in preparation for the exam. The NASET provides a handbook for each exam that details the content within these modules.

Candidates take the exam in sections that correspond with each module. They can take the exam sections online on their own schedule. However, as of December 2023:

  • BCSE candidates must pass all exam sections within four years of the acceptance of their applications.
  • BCIEP candidates must pass exam sections within two years of the acceptance of their applications.
  • BCIES candidates must pass exam sections within two years of the acceptance of their applications.
  • BCASE candidates must pass exam sections within two years of the acceptance of their applications.

3. Receive Approval for Certification and Fulfill Certification Renewal Requirements

After passing the exam for a special education certification, individuals receive approval for their certification. They must apply for renewal of their NASET certification annually.

Benefits of Obtaining a Special Education Certification

Earning a certification in special education can benefit both teachers and their students. Examples of specific benefits are described below.

Strengthen Their Skills and Improve Education

Working toward a special education certification can expand special education teachers’ knowledge and abilities and enable them to improve their students’ education. Teachers can learn new approaches to learning that can enhance their success in working with students in special education.

Expand Their Credentials and Advance in Their Careers

By adding a certification to their resume, teachers can demonstrate the breadth of their skills and their commitment to special education. A certification also can make teachers’ skills more marketable and enable them to advance in their careers.

Prepare for Leadership Roles

Earning a special education certification prepares teachers for positions of increasing responsibility and leadership roles in education. A certification demonstrates an individual’s professionalism and commitment to both continuing their own education and the field of special education.

Stay Up to Date on Advancements in Special Education

In working toward earning a special education certification, teachers can learn about advancements and new approaches in special education that they can incorporate into their teaching practice. In addition, when individuals renew their NASET certification, they receive updated information related to the subject of their certification.

Special Education Certifications Enhance Teachers’ Skills and Strengthen Students’ Education

Pursuing a special education certification is a great way for teachers to improve their ability to provide special education services and advance in their careers. Individuals who are interested in furthering their knowledge of special education can explore Wilson College Online’s Master of Special Education degree program to learn how it can help them achieve their goals. 

With coursework designed to expand teachers’ expertise in pedagogical theories and technology relevant to teaching special education—as well as their expertise in subject areas that are relevant to earning a special education certification—the program is designed to help teachers advance along the special education career path. 

Make the commitment to enhance your special education expertise today.

Recommended Readings

Master of Teaching vs. Master of Education: What’s the Difference?

Tips for Building an Engaging Special Education Classroom

What Can You Do With an Early Childhood Education Degree?

Sources:

ETS, The Praxis Tests

Indeed, “How to Become a Special Education Teacher”

National Association of Special Education Teachers, Board Certification in IEP Development (BCIEP) Handbook

National Association of Special Education Teachers, Board Certification in Special Education (BCSE) Handbook

National Association of Special Education Teachers, Board Certified Advocate in Special Education (BCASE) Handbook

National Association of Special Education Teachers, Board Certified Inclusive Education Specialist (BCIES) Handbook

National Association of Special Education Teachers, NASET’s Board Certification Programs

Pew Research Center, “What Federal Education Data Shows About Students With Disabilities in the U.S.”

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