Competency Activities

The purpose of the competency examination stage is threefold. First, the Ph.D. candidate is provided guided practice and mentoring, to develop/refine the student's research skills. Second, the candidate is expected to expand his/her knowledge of special education beyond the level of a master's student. Third, to enable the faculty to determine the candidate's ability to complete the doctoral dissertation (i.e. complete the comprehensive exam and final oral).

Before admission to the Comprehensive Examination, a doctoral candidate must complete a three-part qualifying process: Competency Paper #1: Literature Review, Competency Paper #2: Empirical Study, and Doctoral Seminar (SPLED 500). Paper #1 and #2 may be worked on concurrently, however, approval of Paper #1 must precede approval of Paper #2.

Competency PAPER #1: Literature Review

The student will prepare a critical review of the literature. 

I. Caveats

  1. The choice of topic will be the student's. Faculty should not use competency papers to generate their own research, nor should faculty give students topics.

  2. In the preparation of this competency paper, the student is urged to work closely with one or more faculty members who are encouraged to provide formative evaluations. "Working closely" and "formative evaluations" should be understood to refer to the same process that a mentor currently uses when helping a student formulate and polish a dissertation proposal.

  3. "Working closely" and "formative evaluations" are not synonymous with writing, rewriting (although some editorial assistance is appropriate), or solving problems (although identifying problems, referring the student to appropriate articles, and discussing pros and cons is appropriate)

  4. It is expected that this paper will be of publishable quality.

II. Submission of Competency PAPER #1

  1. When paper is completed, the student is responsible for duplicating copies of the completed paper for SPLED faculty on the doctoral committee. (Outside member has the option to participate.) The candidate then makes arrangements with the Program Secretary to prepare the Competency Paper Review Form. The form will be attached to each copy of the paper for distribution to the doctoral committee by the Program Secretary.

  2. The paper will be evaluated by the student's Special Education committee members using the criteria noted on the Competency Paper Review Form (also attached). The signed, written evaluation by each faculty member should be provided to the candidate and the candidate's adviser.

  3. The paper may be revised and resubmitted.

  4. A two-thirds vote of the student's committee is required to pass.

  5. A copy of the final paper and review forms should be given to Program Secretary for the Department file.

Competency PAPER #2: Empirical Study 

The student will prepare a data-based report.

I. Caveats

  1. The paper should be prepared in the form of a journal article.

  2. The student is expected to be more independent in the preparation of this paper, and faculty are expected to provide the same type of help that would be provided a colleague. 

II. Submission of Competency PAPER #2

  1. The submission and evaluation procedures followed for the first paper will be followed for the second paper. The outside committee member will be given the option to evaluate Paper #2. (A two-thirds vote to pass is required, and the paper may be revised once.)

  2. A Competency Review Form will be filled out by each committee member. The final report and review forms will be placed in the Department file.

Doctoral Seminar and Competency Examination

The third part of the examination process is intended to assess a student's mastery of the general content of special education. This is achieved through completion of written responses to a set of questions in nine areas: (a) politics, litigation, and legislation, (b) behavior/classroom management, (c) effective instruction, (d) identification, assessment, diagnosis of disabilities, (e) research design and statistical analysis, (f) sociocultural aspects of disability, (g) characteristics, definitions, and categories of disabilities, (h) child development and early intervention, and (i) teacher preparation.

During the first semester of full-time doctoral level coursework, and for each of the following two semesters in which SPLED 500 will be offered, the student will register for three 1-credit sections of SPLED 500 (e.g., SPLED 500.1, 500.2, 500.3). All doctoral students, therefore, will take SPLED 500 for three semesters. Each section of SPLED 500 will deal with one of the nine major areas listed previously.

In each of the one-credit sections, a faculty member will lead inquiry for five weeks on one of nine core themes. At the end of each five week session, students will have one hour to answer a broad question (Competency Essay #1) written by the faculty member for that session, and scored by the faculty member for that session. Essays will be marked pass/fail. If the student passes Essay #1, that competency has been completed.

If the student fails Essay #1, a committee composed of the instructor, a faculty member randomly drawn from the student's committee, and a faculty randomly chosen from non-committee faculty members, will create and score a question (Competency Essay #2) on the same content area as Essay #1. If the student is in the first semester of the program and has not formed a committee, a random draw of faculty will be used to identify the two additional persons for the Essay #2 committee. The student will pass Essay #2 if a majority of the Essay #2 committee passes the student. If the student passes Essay #2, that competency has been completed. If the student fails Essay #2, the student will have been judged to have failed the written comprehensives and will not continue in the doctoral program.

After three semesters of SPLED 500 the student will have covered all nine major themes and will have been judged to have completed written comprehensives. The student's committee (including the outside member, where appropriate) should certify that the candidate has completed the competency process and the adviser should place a written notice in the student's permanent Department file.

Grandfather clause

Students who have previously taken SPLED 500 can choose one of three options:

  1. Continue with the traditional comprehensive requirements (i.e., independent study and preparation, answer 6 questions drawn from Pool and two specialty area questions); if students elect to stay with the traditional comprehensive requirements they must have attended 3 semesters of SPLED 500 before choosing not to register for the new SPLED 500. The pass/fail essay activities in the new SPLED 500 would not affect the standing of students who are in the traditional sequence; however, the grade obtained in SPLED 500 would be included in their GPA.

  2. Switch to the new sequence.

  3. Switch to the new sequence, with the option of attempting a response at the beginning of each session on the topic for that session. This would be most appropriate in situations in which the student has already completed considerable work (perhaps in previous doctoral seminars) on a theme area. If the response is scored as a pass, the student would be not be responsible for the remaining work in that session. If the response is not scored as a pass, the student would complete the session as usual. Student should discuss with their adviser about the above options.

If the student chooses the traditional comprehensive examination, information regarding the procedures can be obtained from the Program Secretary.