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Online Special Education Certificate and Certification Information

Learn about online certificate programs in special education. Get an overview of the program types, requirements and course descriptions available for this field.

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Essential Information

Many schools offer online certificate programs in special education to individuals who already hold a bachelor's degree in education. These programs take about a year to complete. Most courses are available entirely online, though field experiences are required in some courses, and students will need to complete an internship working with special education students.

Courses in a special education certificate program help aspiring teachers learn about working with special needs students and how to adapt their teaching methods to help these students succeed. Testing and assessment methods, classroom management, and behavioral intervention are explored. There is usually a course on legal issues as well.

Licensing, sometimes called certification, requirements vary from state-to-state for special education teachers, with some states offering general licensing that allows special education teachers to work with students with many types of disabilities. Other states require that teachers be licensed separately for various types of disabilities.

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Special Education Certificate

Certificates in special education are available through entirely online programs and are usually conducted at the graduate level. The certificate program is meant to be taken following completion of a bachelor's degree in education, which is the minimum requirement held by most states for special education teachers. A certificate in special education is designed not only for special education teachers, but also for regular classroom teachers and school administrators who seek to improve their special education knowledge. People enrolled in this program develop skills and strategies necessary to properly instruct students with moderate to severe learning disabilities. This certificate program qualifies graduates to pass state licensing exams, such as the Praxis exam, and become licensed special education teachers.

Program Information and Requirements

A certificate in special education program consists of 12-27 credit hours and typically lasts about one calendar year. An online certificate program generally has no on campus components, though some courses incorporate field experiences. Students access the online materials using Centra, Blackboard Vista or a similar online content management system. Some schools utilize DVDs to present information. Distance-learning students interact with their instructors and peers by using online message boards, chat rooms, e-mail and phone.

Course Topics

Often, the curriculum of a certificate in special education is a condensed and more focused version of a master's degree in special education. Schools that offer the certificate also usually offer a master's degree which has a few more courses and elective credits, but certificate programs concentrate on the basics.

Assessment and Evaluation of Exceptional Children

This course examines the different methods and instruments used for assessing exceptional learners to decide on effective teaching strategies. Students are familiarized with the various tests used to assess learning abilities as well as how to properly administer the tests and translate the results into an informed decision. Emphasis is placed on legislative, moral and regulatory issues involving the assessment of students from different cultures and backgrounds.

Behavioral Intervention and Classroom Management

Students learn how to control the special education classroom and foster positive behavior in students with special needs. Techniques of reinforcement, applied behavior evaluation and problem solving are discussed. Various patterns of behavioral problems are identified and methods for deterring such behavior are discussed.

Reading Instruction for Special Needs Children

The different types of reading instruction used for children are examined as well as why these can sometimes fail with certain students. Corrective methods are developed to help improve phonics and literacy. Problems in comprehension, vocabulary development and fluency are also addressed.


Career Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in May of 2014 there were 484,240 special education teachers at all school levels nationwide from preschool to secondary school (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported a median yearly salary of $5956,800 for special education teachers at all school levels in 2015. The BLS predicted an occupational growth of 6% for special education teachers between the years 2014 and 2024.

Continuing Education Information

Following completion of the certificate program, students must pass a professional assessment exam such as the Praxis as well as gain state certification. Licensing requirements vary widely between different states, so it is advised that prospective special education teachers consult their own state's board of education to determine the specific requirements. Additionally, some states require special education teachers to receive specialized licenses to work with students with specific disorders such as hearing or vision impairment, mental retardation and emotional disabilities.

Some states require a master's degree in special education to become officially licensed. Fortunately, master's degree programs in special education are also available in an online format. These master's degree programs can be completed entirely online except for the required field experience hours.

Online certificate programs in special education are available to students holding a bachelor's degree, however, field work, internships and certification are conducted offline. These programs emphasize work with special needs students by exploring topics such as assessment techniques, behavioral management, and reading instruction methods.

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