LAO Contact

Budget and Policy Post
April 30, 2019

The 2019-20 Budget

Special Education Teaching Performance Assessment


In this post, we analyze the Governor’s proposals to develop and implement a performance assessment for prospective special education teachers. We first provide background, then describe the Governor’s proposals, assess the proposals, and offer associated recommendations.


Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) Sets State Teaching Standards. The CTC is responsible for establishing statewide standards that define the knowledge and skills expected of effective teachers. The CTC has two main ways of ensuring teachers are trained to these standards before receiving their teaching credential, as described below:

  • Accreditation of Teacher Preparation Programs. To earn a teaching credential in California, prospective teachers must successfully complete a preparation program accredited by CTC. As part of its accreditation process, CTC examines each program, including its curriculum, field experiences, and faculty, to ensure that programs are preparing teachers to meet state standards.

  • Assessments of Prospective Teachers. Before earning their credentials, prospective teachers must also complete a series of state assessments. The CTC oversees these assessments and ensures they align with state teaching standards.

CTC’s Operations Are Supported Primarily by Fees. The CTC receives nearly all of its operating revenue from two types of fees paid by prospective teachers. Prospective teachers are required to pay a fee to CTC when they apply for a credential for the first time and when they renew a credential (typically every five years). Revenues from these credential fees are deposited into the Teacher Credential Fund (TCF). The CTC also retains a portion of the fee prospective teachers pay when they take state-required assessments. Revenues from assessment fees are deposited into the Test Development and Administration Account (TDAA). Under state law, TDAA funds must be used for the development and administration of assessments required by CTC. In 2017‑18, $27 million in credential fees were deposited into the TCF and $5 million in assessment fees were deposited into the TDAA.

Teaching Performance Assessment (TPA) Required for General Education Teachers. During the early 1990s, the Legislature became concerned with the coherence of the teacher credentialing system, as the state had added credential requirements incrementally over the years without comprehensive evaluation. At the request of the Legislature, CTC convened a workgroup to broadly review the state’s teacher credential requirements. One component of the review evaluated whether assessment practices prepared teachers to enter the classroom. The workgroup concluded that existing assessments varied considerably across preparation programs and often failed to provide a good measure of teachers’ preparation. In response to these findings, the Legislature tasked CTC with developing a new assessment for all general education teachers known as the Teaching Performance Assessment (TPA).

The TPA Measures Whether Prospective Teachers Meet State Standards. The TPA requires prospective general education teachers to complete a series of tasks, each of which correspond to specific state teaching standards. These tasks may include preparing lesson plans, providing classroom instruction, assessing student learning, and reflecting on past instruction. By completing these tasks, prospective teachers build a portfolio of written and video-recorded work that is then scored by an independent assessor. The intent of the TPA is to improve teacher preparation by requiring an objective assessment of whether prospective teachers meet state teaching standards. Since July 1, 2008, the state has required all general education teachers to pass the TPA before receiving their credentials.

Special Education Teachers Not Statutorily Required to Pass a TPA. Whereas statute requires general education teachers to complete the TPA, it gives CTC broad discretion to determine the assessment requirements for special education teachers. Though CTC does not currently require a TPA for special education teachers, it is considering creating one. According to CTC, a special education TPA would help the state ensure special education teachers meet state expectations, similar to how the TPA already functions for general education teachers.

Schools Face Persistent Challenges Finding Special Education Teachers. To comply with a federal requirement, each year California identifies areas of school staffing shortages. Since the state began reporting in the early 1980s, it has consistently identified shortages of special education teachers. Districts respond to special education staffing shortages in various ways, including recruiting teachers out of state and hiring staff who have not met all credential requirements. For instance, of the 7,875 special education teaching licenses newly issued in 2016‑17, more than 2,700 (34 percent) consisted of temporary licenses issued to individuals who did not meet all of the regular credential qualifications.

Governor’s Proposal

Provides $1.2 Million to Develop Special Education TPA. The Governor proposes allocating $1.2 million on a one-time basis from the TDAA for CTC to develop and implement a special education TPA. The CTC estimates that the total cost to develop a special education TPA is $2 million. It intends to request the remaining $800,000 from the TDAA over the following two years. The CTC plans for the TPA to be fully implemented in four years. If the proposal is approved in 2019‑20, CTC would enter into contract with a test developer and begin developing the special education TPA tasks and materials. In 2020‑21, CTC would further refine the assessment and training materials and conduct a small pilot of the assessment. In 2021‑22, CTC would conduct a statewide field test. By 2022‑23, the assessment would be fully operational, meaning prospective special education teachers would need to pass the assessment to receive their credentials. The ongoing cost of administering and scoring the assessment would be covered by fees paid by test takers. The CTC intends the special education TPA fee to be comparable to the existing TPA fee, which is currently $300 per test taker.

Provides One New Position to Support TPA Development and Implementation. The Governor also proposes to provide $136,000 in ongoing funding from the TDAA for one new full-time position to support the development and implementation of the special education TPA. This position primarily would be responsible for (1) overseeing contracts for test development and administration, (2) providing ongoing analysis of the assessment results, and (3) providing TPA-related technical assistance to teacher preparation programs.


Proposal Intended to Improve Teacher Preparation. The Legislature intended the general education TPA to be a tool for assessing teacher preparation programs and ensuring that credentialed teachers meet state standards. A special education TPA would serve comparable purposes by assessing the knowledge and skills that special education teachers need to provide instruction to students with special needs. Some components of the special education TPA likely would include managing cases, preparing individualized education programs (IEPs), working with specialists, and preparing to work with different student needs. Further, CTC indicates that for each special education teacher preparation program, it would receive information about how well prospective teachers are performing on the various components of the TPA. The CTC intends to use these results to identify the relative strengths and weaknesses of special education teacher preparation programs and refine its accreditation process.

Evidence Linking TPA Performance and Student Outcomes Is Limited but Positive. In reviewing the existing literature, we found three studies examining the link between teacher performance on the TPA and student academic outcomes. Two small studies evaluated an earlier version of the TPA in California and found that—controlling for other factors—students assigned to teachers who had performed better on the TPA performed somewhat better on math and reading assessments. A third study from 2017 tracked a larger sample of teachers taking a version of the TPA in Washington state and found similar results, with TPA scores having a relatively strong association with student performance in mathematics and a moderate association with performance in reading.

Potential Impact of Special Education TPA on Teacher Supply Is Unclear. The special education TPA has the potential to add additional work and modest additional cost to the process of becoming a special education teacher. We are not certain, however, whether this new requirement and associated cost would have a notable effect on the number of teachers pursuing and obtaining special education credentials. Although we spoke with experts and reviewed the available literature, we did not find any research on how portfolio-based assessments such as the TPA affect teacher supply.

Special Education TPA Entails Other Potential Trade-Offs. Given the limited research, we contacted teachers and teacher preparation program administrators to learn more about the potential trade-offs of requiring a special education TPA. Program administrators generally thought that a special education TPA could improve the rigor of teacher preparation programs, which could in turn improve academic outcomes for special education students. Some administrators also saw a special education TPA as a tool to hold preparation programs accountable for teaching to state standards. On the other hand, some teachers who had completed the general education TPA thought their existing coursework and in-classroom teaching experiences were much more important to their overall level of preparation than the TPA. These teachers appreciated the TPA’s focus on reflection but were concerned that the time spent completing the assessment seemed high relative to its value as a preparation tool.

Costs and Fund Source for Governor’s Proposals Are Reasonable. We think the cost estimate and fund source for this proposal are reasonable. The state provided a total of $3 million onetime to update the general education TPA to reflect new state academic standards. The special education TPA reflects a lower total cost estimate ($2 million) because CTC intends to repurpose some components of the general education TPA. The proposed special education TPA also draws from funds specially intended for test development (the TDAA). Finally, the balance in the TDAA has been growing in recent years and is expected to reach $5.4 million by the end of 2018‑19, such that it likely can support the initial development cost and the ongoing position.


Adopt Governor’s Proposals to Fund Development of a Special Education TPA and Add One CTC Position. The special education TPA would measure whether prospective teachers meet state teaching standards while also helping to assess the overall quality of teacher preparation programs. Further, this proposal would bring special education credential requirements in line with the requirements the Legislature has established for general education. The requested one additional position would support the development of the special education TPA and data analysis of TPA results to inform the CTC accreditation process.

Require CTC to Assess How Proposal Affects Teacher Supply. Given the state has experienced a shortage of credentialed special education teachers for many years and the impact of the new assessment on special education teacher supply remains unclear, we recommend the Legislature direct CTC to collect additional data during the pilot phase to determine how the new TPA requirement affects the interest, workload, and completion rate of prospective teachers in special education teacher preparation programs. In addition to collecting data on how pilot test takers perform on the TPA, CTC could collect data on (1) how the TPA is affecting interest in special education teacher preparation programs, (2) how much time prospective teachers take to complete the TPA tasks and how it affects their overall program workload, and (3) what prospective teachers consider the added value of the TPA to their teaching preparation. We recommend requiring CTC to report this information to the Legislature by January 2022—before the TPA becomes mandatory for all special education teacher candidates. We think CTC could accommodate the cost of this work within its requested augmentation, as CTC would likely solicit test taker feedback on the TPA during the pilot phase.

If Interested in Learning More About the Impact of the TPA on Student Outcomes, Consider Funding Evaluation. The research linking TPA performance to student outcomes is limited and somewhat outdated. Relatively little is known about how requiring teachers to pass a TPA impacts teacher preparation and student outcomes in California. Given the limited research, the Legislature could consider giving the California Department of Education (CDE) funding to contract with an independent evaluation firm to study this relationship for the special education TPA. Given that CDE is not involved in the development of the TPA, we think it would be better positioned than CTC to oversee an independent evaluation. Such a study could help the Legislature understand the extent to which the TPA achieves its goal of improving teacher preparation and student outcomes across the state.