Special Education Certificates and Certification

Licensing is required to teach special needs students in all states, so a Certificate in Special Education might benefit individuals pusuing a career in the field. Special credentials have various requirements, and certification with professional organizations such as the National Association of Special Education Teachers might be a potential path.

Sometimes the difference between special education certificate programs and certification can be confusing.  A certificate program provides educational training on a specialized topic, for which you receive a certificate after completing the required courses. Whereas, professional certification is a voluntary process in which you are assessed by a professional board or entity to see if you meet a predetermined and standardized criteria (which often involves passing an exam) to practice in the field.

Special Education Certificate Programs and No Child Left Behind

While earning a graduate certificate in special education might not be a professional requirement it might be a great professional development tool.  When the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001, it outlined minimum qualifications for teachers including: a bachelor’s degree, full state certification and demonstration of subject-matter competency1.  As such, some states now require that certified or licensed teachers log a certain amount of continuing education credits each year—and enrolling in special education certificate programs may be a way to help meet these requirements2.

Licensure and Certification Requirements for Special Education Teachers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all states currently require special education teachers in public schools to be licensed. Requirements for certification vary by state—but all states require that teachers earn a bachelor’s degree at a minimum, and that

they complete a teacher preparation program including supervised experience in teaching2. Some states also require a minimum grade point average—and most states require teachers to complete a background check. As we mentioned above teachers may also be required to complete annual continuing education courses—or in some cases earn a master’s degree—to maintain their license2.

Some states might offer general licenses in special education that allow teachers to work with students with a variety of different disabilities—while others might offer licenses based on a specific disability category, such as behavior disorders. Some states may also allow special education teachers to transfer their licenses from another states. However, other states require that teachers pass their respective state-specific licensing requirements.  Be sure to check with the state’s requirements for the area where you intend to teach2.

B.C.S.E. Certification

In some cases, special education teachers may decide to pursue optional forms of certification to demonstrate a commitment to excellence in the field. Board Certification in Special Education (B.C.S.E.) is a voluntary form of certification offered by the American Academy of Special Education Professionals (AASEP). It was created to outline specific professional standards that require high professional competency in special education. Accordingly, earning this certification can be a great way to show potential employers—and parents—that you are competent, committed and highly-qualified to teach in the field.3

To be eligible to attain B.C.S.E. certification, you must meet the following requirements:3

  • Have earned at least a master’s degree from an accredited institution of higher learning in the U.S. or Canada
  • Have earned at least a master’s degree from an institution of higher learning outside of the U.S. or Canada that maintained an equivalent standard of training as those accredited in the U.S.
  • The master’s degree you earned must be in a field involved with students with special needs
  • Complete the five certificates of advanced professional development
  • Pass the multiple choice exam with a score of 80% or higher (you may take the exam up to three times)


1.http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/overview/intro/guide/index.html | 2.http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-4 | 3.https://www.naset.org/2457.0.html

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