Studying special education caseload policies
Lindsey Hogue, Ph.D. student in Special Education, has been reviewing special education caseload policies state by state to understand the impact of caseloads on special education teacher (SET) burnout. She recently completed a study called “A review of special education caseload policies state by state: What impact do they have?” This study, co-authored by Dr. Shanon Taylor in the College of Education, was published in the Journal of Special Education Leadership in March 2020. Dr. Taylor and I presented this research at the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children (TED) conference in November 2019. Additionally, I won the Kaleidoscope Award for doctoral research at TED for this study.
A caseload is a group of students with disabilities that a SET is responsible for managing. Case management involves developing, managing, and implementing Individual Education Programs (IEPs), as well as individualizing instruction and supporting students in general education settings. In addition to these duties, SETs must communicate frequently with parents and staff for each student on their caseload.
Caseloads are important because caseload issues have emerged as a concern for SETs in several studies and there is evidence that links caseload issues to symptoms of teacher burnout. Special education is an area of critical shortage in 46 states, and burnout is an issue in the field as well. Burnout can lead to negative student outcomes, poor IEP implementation, or attrition. Caseloads are determined at the state level, and each state has different requirements regarding caseloads for SETs. Because caseload policies by state have not been examined since 2003, this study updated the literature on the current guidelines regarding SET caseloads for each state. In all, information was gathered for 48 states and specific policies about caseloads were found for 20 states.
This study found that caseload policies for each state varied widely, which demonstrates how much special education practices vary state by state. The literature connecting caseload issues to burnout highlights the importance of the issue. More research is needed to understand the specific characteristics of caseloads that contribute to burnout in SETs (e.g., size, age range, range of abilities).