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MS in Education Insight: Making Minimal Competency Testing Work for All Students Receiving Special Education Teaching

Study alongside Walden University students with this required reading taken from the MS in Education degree course Special Education: Honoring Due Process.

As of the 2019–2020 school year, there were 7.3 million U.S. public school students ages 3 to 21 receiving special education services.1 That accounts for 14% of all public school students. Even if you’re not directly involved in special education teaching, you likely have students who take advantage of your school’s special education services. But are the services enough to ensure these students succeed in school?

In most states, students now have to pass what are known as minimal competency tests to advance grade levels and/or graduate high school. Without proper test preparation and test administration, minimal competency tests can pose a significant problem for some students, particularly those with learning disabilities. To keep minimal competency testing from becoming an unfair burden—and an unfair obstacle to earning a diploma—special education teachers and others in the special education community are working to ensure every state adopts policies that give their students an equal opportunity for educational success.

MS in Education Insight: Making Minimal Competency Testing Work for Special Education Students

These policies are best outlined in the Council For Exceptional Children’s (CEC) special education policy manual. Studied as part of Walden University’s Special Education: Honoring Due Process course within its MS in Education (MSEd) degree program, the CEC’s policy guidelines for minimal competency testing are helping teachers and administrators advocate for the needs and rights of their students with exceptional needs.The CEC says:2

While most students with exceptional needs have been assured their right to public education along with their peers, they have not been similarly assured of the opportunity to complete their education, graduate, and receive a diploma signifying their achievement. There exist considerable variations and inconsistencies within and among the states and provinces regarding graduation requirements for pupils with exceptional needs and the procedures for their receiving, or not receiving, a diploma.

An emerging issue which compounds these variations and inconsistencies is the minimal competency testing movement, which uses established test results as standards for the granting of diplomas or for the determination of grade placement. Unless educational policies in this area are formulated so as to resolve these inconsistencies, eliminate potentially discriminatory practices, and assure that graduation and grade placement requirements are equitably applied to all students, many of the educational gains made by pupils with exceptional needs could be threatened or delayed.

The Council believes that educational policies governing minimal competency testing and graduation and/or grade placement requirements for pupils with exceptional needs should be developed at the state, provincial, and local levels. These policies should incorporate the following principles:

a. Every pupil with exceptional needs should have available the opportunity to demonstrate minimal competency.

b. Alternative methods of minimal competency testing and the demonstration of minimal competency should be available to pupils with exceptional needs to assure that the competency level is being tested rather than the exceptionality.

c. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) should be the vehicle for individually addressing the method by which each pupil with exceptional needs may demonstrate minimal competency standards and/or any differential standards that may be used.

d. The application of minimal competency testing programs to pupils with exceptional needs should provide for adequate phase-in periods and educational preparation time.

e. A minimal competency testing program for students with exceptional needs should provide successive opportunities to demonstrate competency as well as adequate and appropriate remedial programs to address areas in which competency is not sufficiently demonstrated.

f. Only one type of diploma should be granted to all students, and it should be accompanied by grade transcripts and/or course-of-study description.

g. The successful implementation of a minimal competency testing program, including its application to pupils with exceptional needs, requires the cooperative efforts of regular educators, special educators, and parents in its planning, application, and evaluation.

How Can You Learn More About Special Ed and Education In General?

When you earn an MSEd degree from Walden University, you not only gain an advanced education degree, you can gain an advanced understanding of teaching and education, including special education. In fact, through Walden’s master’s in education program, you can specialize in K–12 special education. But even if you choose to go in a different direction of study, an MSEd degree can help you gain new teaching strategies and better teaching skills while elevating your professional qualifications and putting you in position for promotions and raises. And you can gain all of this in an online education format. Walden also offers a Master of Arts in Teaching specialization that prepares individuals who wish to work within the field of special education for teacher licensure.

What’s the advantage to online learning? The convenient and flexible learning platform. At a campus-based school of education, you have to drive to class. But through Walden’s online master’s in education, you can complete classes from home or wherever else you have internet access. Plus, the time of day you attend class is up to you, making it possible to earn an advanced teaching degree while handling your other responsibilities.

Whether you want to become a successful special education teacher or a more successful teacher in general, Walden’s master’s degree in education can be the stepping stone you need.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Education degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,