Educator Tips

Seven key takeaways about the education specialist credential

By Brian Soika Published on

The Education Specialist Credential is designed for teachers who want to help students with a variety of learning differences. Formerly referred to as SPED, or Special Education Teaching Credential, the title was updated by The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) to be more inclusive. 

Wondering if you should earn your Education Specialist Credential? Cathy Creasia, EdD is the Director of Accreditation and Credentialing at USC Rossier. She also served on the CTC’s task force that revised the standards and teacher performance expectations for the education specialist credential. 

Learn more about earning your Education Specialist Credential through USC Rossier’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.
Creasia recently shared her expertise for aspiring and current teachers on what the credential entails, and how to earn it. Here are the key takeaways.

(Note: This article focuses on the Education Specialist Credential in California. For special education teaching requirements in other states, go here.)

1) Prepare to Work With a Range of Students

The Education Specialist Credential has different areas of focus. The Mild/Moderate authorization prepares you to teach students who have mild to moderate learning disabilities.

The CTC’s goal is to make K-12 classrooms more inclusive by shifting the focus of special education. Rather than isolating students whose needs may require moderate additional support, schools should integrate and accommodate them in a general education classroom. 

The special education continuum includes “Anybody who has any type of learning difference,” explains Creasia. Learning differences might include everything from individuals with dyslexia to students in the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program.

2) Receive Autism Authorization for General Education

An education specialist program educates you on the whole spectrum of Autism, with particular attention on students who can function in a general education setting. Typically, these students can complete assignments but might need additional help focusing, or perhaps require the assistance of a special education assistant to start an assignment.

3) Learn Different Types of Student Support

With a special education credential, you can accommodate students by identifying and understanding the right type of support for their needs. Examples of support for students with mild to moderate disabilities might include: 

  • Giving a student extra time on a test
  • A learning specialist who provides one-on-one assistance to a student in the classroom
  • Assistive technology (e.g., a wheelchair, specialized calculator, text-to-speech software and many more)
  • Assistive listening systems
  • Writing assistance software

As a teacher, you are not solely responsible for diagnosing what kind of support will benefit students (students should have an Individual Education Program (IEP) document, a legal document that states their disability and mandates the required support tools). 

Rather, your credential program will train you to provide instruction and support, and enable students to progress toward meeting academic goals.

Prepare to strengthen your skills as a teacher.

4) All Aspiring Teachers Should Pursue an Education Specialist Credential

“Everybody should have [the credential],” says Creasia. “The reality is you’re going to be working with students with diverse learning differences.”

In fact, over the past 10 years, the number of U.S. students enrolled in special education programs has risen 30 percent, according to the National Education Association. Nearly every general education classroom across the country includes students with disabilities. 

Education experts are encouraging policy makers to combine the preliminary general education and preliminary mild/moderate Education Specialist credentials into one credential, ensuring that all beginning teachers are trained to work with the majority of students.

5) Other Types of Credentials Address More Severe Disabilities

While the Education Specialist Credential trains you to address a range of learning disabilities, other specialized credentials focus on students who need greater support. 

If you’re curious about what’s NOT covered by SPED, here are other common special education credentials:

  • Moderate/Severe Disabilities
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing
  • Visual Impairments
  • Physical and Health Impairments
  • Language and Academic Development
  • Early Childhood Special Education

6) Complete the Requirements

Education Specialist Credential Requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Master of Arts in Teaching


  • Education Specialist Credential program
  • Basic skills test
  • RICA
  • TPA
  • Single- / Multi-Subject Preliminary Credential
  • Education Specialist Instruction Credential
  • Clear credential
  • Student teaching 
Time Commitment
  • Varies by credential program

Meet Minimum Education Requirements

A bachelor’s degree from an accredited university is the minimum requirement to earning your Education Specialist certification. However, many individuals enroll in a Master of Arts in Teaching program to simultaneously receive enhanced preparation and earn their teaching credential. 

(Head’s up: Make sure to choose a master’s program that offers an Education Specialist Credential as part of its curriculum.)

If you don’t choose a master’s program, you’ll need to enroll in a CTC-approved program. 

Take the Tests

Earn Your Credentials

According to the CTC, The Preliminary Education Specialist Instruction Credential authorizes you to conduct assessments related to students’ access to curriculum and progress towards academic goals. It also states that you can provide instruction and special education support.

The Clear Credential is issued when you meet all of the credential requirements. 

Note: You need to get recommended by your Master of Arts in Teaching or teacher induction program for a single- or multi-subject preliminary credential before you can get recommended for an Education Specialist Credential. 

Complete the Fieldwork

You will be required to complete student teaching in a range of settings to ensure training and experience in general and special education settings.

7) Choose a Teacher Program That Offers Primary and Education Specialist Credentials

A master of arts in teaching program such as the one offered by USC Rossier lets you earn your primary credential as well as your Education Specialist Credential, making the process more convenient.

The in-depth education and training of a master’s program can help you better prepare for your career in a classroom. According to The Learning Policy Institute, special education teachers with more extensive pedagogical training and practice teaching are better equipped to handle key teaching duties.

In USC Rossier’s program, you complete guided fieldwork for your single- or multi-subject preliminary credential, and then student-teach in special education settings under the supervision of another teacher.

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