What does teacher certification contribute to outcomes for students with disabilities?

Reams of research have reported contradictory outcomes for students with disabilities (SWDs) who are taught in general education classrooms alongside their non-disabled peers versus learning in settings with only SWDs. A new report focuses on teacher certification as a possible mechanism to explain the variations in outcomes.

J. Jacob Kirksey from Texas Tech University and Michael Lloydhauser from the University of California, Santa Barbara use data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten Class of 2010–2011 (ECLS-K) to identify 2,370 unique SWDs and observe them over three school years, spanning kindergarten, first- and second-grade. Kirksey and Lloydhauser compared academic outcomes for SWDs whose teachers only had special education certification, SWDs whose teachers only had a single general education certification, and SWDs whose teachers had dual certification in special and general education.

The researchers used three models for their analysis and had three sets of findings. Under the first model, they find that SWDs with teachers holding only a special education credential fared worse in math (0.14 standard deviations) compared to their SWD peers whose teachers had a single elementary education certification. There was no difference observed in reading achievement. Dual-certification teachers, likewise, seemed to have no observable impact on SWD student achievement in this initial analysis.

A second model looked at school-level fixed effects and found no difference in achievement for SWDs based on teacher certifications. The authors’ third and preferred model combined school and child fixed effects (largely eliminating “school and child-level confounding bias”) and found positive, statistically-significant results (0.09 standard deviations) linking dual certification to higher math outcomes for SWDs.

For more commentary on this study, see: https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/what-does-teacher-certification-contribute-outcomes-students-disabilities

For the original study, see: Dual Certification in Special and Elementary Education and Associated Benefits for Students With Disabilities and Their Teachers