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PSC Special Education

Combine your passion for helping children with your interest in education — discover a career in special education.

Special education teachers are in demand, with teacher shortages reported nationwide. Our Professional Studies Certificate program leads to licensure in Special Education-General Curriculum, K-12 endorsement in Virginia. Most states will honor a Virginia teaching certificate so you can apply for a teaching license out-of-state by reciprocal agreement.

What Our Program Offers You

What our students learn/Skills you will acquire

You’ll learn to work in public and private schools with K-12 students who receive special education services, but who also access the general curriculum. You’ll learn how to:

  • assess academic, socio-emotional and functional skills of K-12 students
  • plan for instruction and develop Individual Education Plans (IEPs) 
  • carry out instructions as specified on students’ IEPs
  • monitor student progress toward meeting IEP goals and objectives, and local and state curriculum standards
  • learn collaborative and consultative strategies to employ when working with related-service providers such as speech and language clinicians, occupational and physical therapists, and school psychologists; school officials; students and parents/family members
  • learn how to work within a response-to-intervention model to monitor at-risk students
  • learn how to plan for co-teaching experiences in general education classrooms when working with a content teaching partner such as a math, science, English or social studies teacher 
  • learn how to effectively use educational and assistive technology in assessing, planning and delivering instruction

What kind of issues/problems does this major prepare you to solve?

As a special education teacher, you allow students to complete their education in an individualized manner. Beyond learning academics, the focus on socio-emotional and functional skills helps individuals in their daily living, employment and social relationships. In addition, working in the field of special education offers you opportunities to specialize in a variety of K-12 academic settings as well as transitional services that prepare special needs students for post-high school endeavors.

What makes our program unique?

Our program blends distance learning with onsite classes, providing flexibility for working adults. Onsite classes meet only once a week in Winchester or Northern Virginia. All our faculty members have doctorates and classes are taught by those endorsed in special education. Most special education adjunct faculty members are in administrative leadership positions in Virginia K-12 school systems so their knowledge of the field of special education is current and practical.

The program works in partnership with local public and private schools that offer special education programs so you complete real-world field experience practicums and student teaching internships within accredited schools. We give individualized attention to provisionally licensed special education teachers who are admitted to the MSE program so they can complete their coursework within the timeframe of their licensure requirements.

You’ll have opportunities to participate in numerous conferences and professional organizations, including the Fairfax County Public Schools RATE (Real Assistive Technology for Everyone) and SUCCESS conferences each year. Shenandoah also has its own student chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC Chapter 1216), where members participate in CEC state and national conferences, as well as service learning activities with various organizations such as the Cystic Fibrosis Association and the ARC of Northern Shenandoah Valley.

Shenandoah’s Computer-Based Writing Project is supported by the Claude Moore Foundation, and serves local students in grades 4-8 who struggle with writing. During the summer program, students enrolled in SHED 533: Language Acquisition and Reading Methods, help struggling writers learn keyboarding and writing process skills in the Bowman computer lab in downtown Winchester.

For the past four years, students enrolled in SHED 573: Curriculum, Instruction and Service Delivery, partnered with Shenandoah’s occupational therapy students in order to learn how to collaborate with a related-service provider for instructional planning and intervention strategies purposes.

For the past two summers, the program head for MSE and PSC Special Education programs co-planned a joint SU-VSTE (Virginia Society for Technology in Education) one-day conference held at our Northern Virginia campus. The 2013 conference focused on differentiating instruction with the use of mobile devices.

Course Requirements

Program entry requires that the applicant possess an undergraduate degree from an accredited college. Completion of the program and teacher licensure requires successful completion of the Virginia Communication & Literacy Assessment (VCLA), and Reading for Virginia Educators (RVE); passing VCLA and PRAXIS I-MATH, or all of PRAXIS I, SAT or ACT scores are required for admission into the program. As part of the individual course work, field experiences are embedded and required in each of the courses.

Course Descriptions for PSC-Special Education

All students in professional studies programs must complete the following courses, or show they have taken equivalent courses at an undergraduate level:

PSYP 510   Advanced Growth and Development (3 credits)
RDG  523    Foundations of Reading (3 credits)
EDU  510    Foundations of Education (3 credits)

Special Education Content and Methods Courses:

SED 565: Foundations, Legal and Medical Aspects of Special Education (3 graduate credits)
This introductory course is designed to increase knowledge and develop skills involving the foundations, legal, and medical aspects of special education.  This course provides a review for an understanding and application of the legal aspects and regulatory requirements associated with the identification, education, and evaluation of exceptional students.   Compliance procedures and ethical practices as they relate to the education of students with disabilities are addressed. Students also learn characteristics and educational approaches with an emphasis on teaching students included in each of the 14 IDEA categories of characteristic exceptionalities, with a special emphasis in Learning Disabilities, Intellectual Disabilities, and Emotional Disturbance.

SED 571: Characteristics of Students with Disabilities (3 graduate credits)
This course provides an overview of the characteristics of students with learning disabilities; emotional disturbance; mental retardation; development delay; autism; traumatic brain injury; multiple disabilities; and other health impairments who are accessing the general K-12 curriculum. A balance of realistic and pragmatic issues in theory research and historical perspectives are included. The influence of the family system and cultural/environmental issues as they pertain to the student with disabilities, and the educational impact of disabilities and ethical issues and practice of standards of professional behavior are addressed. Students learn how to complete a functional behavior assessment checklist based on a field-based observation and work collaboratively with educators to develop a behavior intervention plan that draws on positive behavior support to address behavioral concerns. 
SED 569: Collaborative and Consultative Strategies (3 graduate credits)
This course focuses on how educators, parents, and outside agencies engage in collaborative and consultative strategies in and outside the school environment to address the educational and social-behavioral functioning of individuals with special needs. The course provides skill development in case management for the special education instructor.

SED 575: Transitions for Students with Disabilities (3 graduate credits)
This course examines the problems, trends, and procedures used to prepare students and work with families to provide successful student transition throughout the educational experience to include postsecondary training, career development, life skills, community experiences and resources, self-advocacy and self-determination, guardianship and legal considerations.

SED 533: Language Acquisition and Reading Methods (3 graduate credits)
This course is designed to develop skills that impart a thorough understanding of the complex nature of language acquisition and reading methods. Students become aware of the developmental processes of language and study the sequential phases of language development.  Skills designed to impart an understanding of comprehension; including a repertoire of questioning strategies, summarizing and retelling skills, and strategies in literal, interpretive, critical, and evaluative comprehension are studied.

The last two courses cover the methodology of planning, instruction and assessment:

SED 567: Special Education Instruction, Behavior Management and Assessment (3 graduate credits)
This course provides an overview of the foundational factors of instruction, assessment and evaluation, including procedures for screening, pre-referral, and eligibility determinations. Students learn about test construction, uses, administration, scoring and interpretation of various assessments as well as task analysis, observation, portfolio and environmental assessments. Students complete field observations on various aspects of behavior management techniques they observe in the educational environment to describe procedures and the situations in which interventions are used.  They analyze the effectiveness of the procedures, with both positive and negative aspects addressed in the analysis.  They study a student with special needs and produce an assessment portfolio containing components of a comprehensive assessment of the child’s abilities and develop an individual education plan (IEP).

SED 569: Collaborative and Consultative Strategies Consultation and Collaboration provides professionals in special education and related fields with the knowledge and skill development necessary to be a case manager to coordinate service delivery with related service providers, general educators, and other professionals in collaborative work environments.

SED 573: Curriculum, Instruction and Service Delivery for Diverse Learners (3 graduate credits)
This course provides students with skills in planning, developing and implementing programs for diverse learners. In this course, students complete a teaching portfolio.  They create an individual instruction plan (IEP) that includes all the appropriate components with particular emphasis on curriculum strategies and adaptations for teaching content area materials related to the general curriculum and consider the use of assistive technology for their case study student. The teaching portfolio also includes planning for systematic instruction (including response to intervention initiatives), multi-sensory approaches, learning cognitive strategies, study skills, learning styles and assistive and instructional technology use that includes monitoring for legal and ethical uses of the technology. The portfolio must include how delivery of instruction makes a difference in the student’s learning; therefore evaluative components must also indicate what changes should be made for future teaching.

EDU 661: Supervised Classroom (6 graduate credits)
Students complete a supervised internship in special education for six graduate credits in order to be considered program completers.

Or, if a student is provisionally licensed to teach special education and is teaching fulltime in an accredited school, complete the following:
EDU 613: Management and Mentorship I (3 graduate credits) and EDU 614: Management and Mentorship II (3 graduate credits).

Virginia requires students in a licensure program to complete student teaching when completing licensure requirements. Provisionally licensed teachers in our PSC program who are employed as full-time teachers and cannot complete student teaching are mentored for a full year by university supervisors who were K-12 school principals with experience in special education and other content endorsement areas.

Provisionally licensed teachers enroll in seminar courses EDU 613: Management and Mentorship I and EDU 614: Management and Mentorship II. These courses replace traditional student teaching. When completing these seminar courses, our students are supported in their own classrooms by field supervisors, which allows students in our PSC program to complete all program requirements in terms of coursework and supervised teaching experiences.


Diane Painter

Associate Professor of Education- Special Education
Full Biography »



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