Handbook revised and approved May 8, 2019; all students beginning doctoral studies on or after May 1, 2019 fall under the purview of the doctoral program as outlined in this Handbook version. All doctoral students starting the program prior to May 1, 2019 have the option to follow the handbook of the year they were admitted or this version and approved by their guidance committee. Thus, guidance committee approval and handbook followed should be communicated to the Program Director.
The Special Education doctoral program at Michigan State University is designed to prepare students for a leadership position in the field of special education. As a participant in our program, a student can expect to:
- learn to conduct rigorous and relevant research that impacts policy, practice, and student success;
- develop a strong commitment to excellence in teacher preparation and professional development; and
- serve with integrity and leadership the families, institutions, and professional communities concerned about children and youth with special needs.
The Special Education doctoral program helps students attain these goals through an individualized program that is grounded in research across a variety of methodological traditions and theoretical orientations. Students are mentored by renowned faculty members who possess a deep understanding of educational challenges in real-world contexts. Faculty members are widely recognized for their commitment to and expertise in classroom-based interventions that translate state-of-the-art learning and developmental theories into effective instructional practices. They work in partnership with teachers, locally and throughout the state, country, and world, to investigate challenging and important problems in the areas of literacy instruction, mathematics education, response to intervention, assessment, bullying, special education technology, early childhood education, and autism spectrum disorders.
Students find that our program is unique for the research and teaching opportunities we offer. Students conduct research, engage in teaching, and contribute to the field through service. We expect that students will leave our program with publications, conference presentations, and teaching experiences that will prepare them for a bright future in the field of special education. Not only do students work with an outstanding and supportive special education faculty, they take courses from and interact with outstanding scholars throughout Michigan State University’s renowned College of Education and beyond. They are stimulated by the quality of intellectual life and challenged by the diversity and richness of experiences that we have to offer.
All program requirements (except in some circumstances the dissertation) must be completed within five calendar years from the time that a student first enrolls. Once students advance to doctoral candidacy (i.e., pass their comprehensive examinations), they must enroll for at least one credit (usually CEP 999) per regular semester (excluding summers) until the degree is completed. Credit will not be permitted for courses taken more than eight years prior to the granting of the degree.
We hope that this Handbook will answer most questions about our doctoral program, including the courses students take, the experiences they have, and the expectations they face as they complete the program. If not, any of us can answer further questions about doctoral study in special education at Michigan State University.
I. Program Overview
Program Requirements for the PhD in Special Education
Note: Students who are admitted to the doctoral program in Special Education with little or no background in the discipline may be required to take additional core coursework to adequately prepare them for research and teaching or to participate in field-based activities. International students who are admitted to the program must meet English language proficiency requirements and, depending on status, may be required to enroll in English Language courses either before enrolling in regular coursework or concurrently with enrollment in regular coursework (see http://grad.msu.edu/apply/docs/international.pdf).
- Foundations Coursework (at least 6 credits/2 courses designed to help build students' academic skills, introduce them to big questions about education, provide them with a preliminary look at the field's major areas of emphasis, and help them establish a professional learning community)
CEP 900: Proseminar in EPET
CEP 949: Critical Issues in Special Education (students are encouraged to take this course in their first year; it serves as a special education proseminar)
- Special Education Core Coursework (9 credits/3 courses designed to, as a set, provide you with broad knowledge of the history, research, and issues in the field of special education)
CEP 941: Academic Issues in Special Education
CEP 943: Multicultural Issues in Special Education
CEP 925: Applied Research in Special Education (students are encouraged to take this course in their second or third year in the program because it involves the conduct of statistical analyses based on more advanced statistical knowledge)
- Research Methodology Coursework (at least 19 credits/7 courses)
CEP 930: Educational Inquiry
CEP 932: Quantitative Methods in Educational Research I
CEP 933: Quantitative Methods in Educational Research II
CEP 942: Single-Case Experimental Design for Intervention Research
CEP 995: Apprenticeship (this course is accompanied by supervised research with a faculty and student Apprenticeship Committee; at least one credit of CEP 995 must be taken during the semester in which the student submits the practicum proposal)
PLUS At Least One Course in Qualitative Research Methods From Below:
CEP 931: Qualitative Methods in Educational Research
TE 939: Special Topics in Advanced Qualitative Methodology
PLUS At Least One Additional Course in Research Methods
- Cognate Area Coursework ((at least 9 credits/3 courses that reflect a broad and diverse perspective on and form a cohesive study strand)
- Dissertation Completion (at least 24 credits, but no more than 30)
CEP 999: Dissertation Research
- Preliminary Exam
The preliminary exam involves each student completing two journal reviews with two different faculty members. The first journal reviews needs to be completed with the student’s advisor and the second with another faculty member. Students need to connect with the Director of Doctoral Studies regarding the journal reviews and complete the required form. The preliminary exam – 2 reviews with 2 different faculty members – needs to be completed before the student can start and complete their apprenticeship project.
- Comprehensive Exam
All students take an off-site comprehensive examination, usually during their third year, administered according to CEPSE department policy. This exam covers special education policy and law, assessment and intervention principles, current issues facing the field, research methodology and design, and the student’s area(s) of specialization.
- Residency Requirements
Students must complete the residency requirement of enrollment in at least 6 credits each semester (full-time study) for two consecutive semesters (summer semester can be counted) after the first registration for doctoral credit (this will typically be the first year in the program) to permit the student to work with and under the direction of the faculty, and to engage in independent and cooperative research utilizing university facilities.
- Annual Review
All students are expected to engage in supervised scholarly activities and mentored teaching experiences that will prepare them for leadership positions in higher education or other public or private institutions. In an effort to ensure that students are making adequate progress towards meeting all of the program requirements and milestones, students submit each spring semester a packet of materials for review. Eligibility for supplemental funding such as program travel funds is contingent on completion of the annual review. Students who do not meet program benchmarks or who do not complete their annual review will be placed on probationary status in the program. Students have up to submission of their next annual review, unless given a shorter time frame in their annual review letter, to complete the requirements of their probation.
II. Admissions Policies
The special education faculty is aware of the need to prepare a diverse group of leadership personnel and scholars. We seek to bring to our program individuals of varied cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, diverse life experiences and lifestyles, and diverse physical abilities and challenges. As an equal opportunity institution, Michigan State University encourages applications from individuals of racial/ethnic minority groups and/or people with disabilities.
All applicants must first meet requirements of the University, College of Education, and Department. Tenure-stream faculty in the special education program make admissions recommendations to the Chair of the Department, and offers of admission originate from our Department office.
Applicants are asked to complete a Department and a University application. With their application, applicants must submit: (a) official transcripts from all previously attended postsecondary institutions; (b) Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) General Test scores for Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing; (c) at least three letters of recommendation; (d) a goal statement; (e) a resume or other record of previous experiences; and (f) a sample of scholarly writing.
We strongly recommend that applicants seek letters from those who can speak directly to their ability and motivation for successful doctoral study. Thus, letters from former professors or other supervisors of graduate or undergraduate work are often more helpful than letters from teaching colleagues. The sample of scholarly writing should show the applicant’s ability to think critically about an issue, review relevant information about that issue, and draw reasonable and creative conclusions or implications. The goal statement should focus not so much on the origins of the applicant’s interests in pursuing a doctorate in special education, but more so on what the applicant hopes to accomplish in the doctoral program, her or his professional aspirations and, most importantly, why the applicant believes MSU’s program is a good match for these interests and aspirations. In addition, the applicant should explain how she or he can make contributions to the program and the field of special education.
When reviewing applications, faculty look for indicators of probable success in doctoral study and indicators that there is a good match between an applicant’s goals and the expertise of program faculty. Potential indicators include a high level of academic performance, high scores (scores above the 50th percentile the Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing sections are typically considered competitive) on the GRE, a statement of professional goals that is consistent with the objectives of the program, evidence of leadership initiatives and positions in special education, excellent writing and analytic abilities, and strong and detailed letters of recommendation. Students seeking to transfer to the special education program from other graduate programs at MSU or elsewhere will be considered on the same basis as all other applicants seeking admission to the program.
Applications for admission from persons who have previously been denied admission to the program should include updated materials documenting any changes in qualifications since the original application. Applicants who have previously declined an offer of admission to the program, or who have accepted an offer of admission but failed to matriculate, should document the reasons for their reapplication and any extenuating circumstances they wish the program faculty to consider.
The admissions process is competitive and typically the special education program has had more good applicants than we can accept. Therefore, we strongly encourage applicants to submit all their materials by December 1 of the year prior to the year in which they will be admitted. If space is available in the program, late applications will be accepted, however, it is highly unlikely that late applicants will receive financial assistance (the deadline for fellowship and graduate assistantship applications is December 1).
Special education doctoral coursework at Michigan State University can be viewed as consisting of five instructional components: (a) at least 6 credits of coursework in education, cognitive and developmental psychology, teacher education, and related inter-disciplinary fields (Foundations); (b) coursework in research methodologies and early and sustained involvement in research (Research Methods); (c) at least 9 credit hours of advanced special education content knowledge (Special Education Core), (d) at least 9 credits of coursework in an area of specialization (Cognate); and (e) at least 24, but no more than 30 credits of CEP 999—dissertation credit. Students file an approved plan through the Grad Plan.
If you receive funding from a leadership preparation grant, additional coursework may be required. The director of your leadership training program will explain any additional requirements or expectations.
Foundations (minimum 6 credits)
CEP 900: Proseminar in EPE
CEP 949: Critical Issues in Special Education
Research Methods (minimum 19 credits)
The required course sequence in research methodology consists of 7 courses, although we recommend that you take additional research methods courses in other topics that are relevant to your research interests. There are 5 courses required of all students in the program (2 more courses are selective, though one must be in qualitative research):
CCEP 930: Educational Inquiry
CEP 932: Quantitative Methods in Educational Research I.
CEP 933: Quantitative Methods in Educational Research II.
CEP 942: Single-Case Experimental Design for Intervention Research
CEP 995: Practicum in Research Design and Data Analysis. Supervised research apprenticeship project Design, execution, analysis, presentation, critique, and revision of research projects.
Core Courses in Special Education (minimum 9 credits)
The special education core consists of 3 courses that every student in the program is required to take. These courses are designed to, as a set, provide you with a broad knowledge of the history, legislation, policies, trends, research, and issues in the field of special education. As you complete the core, you also will obtain the professional skills and experiences that are expected of leaders and scholars in the field of special education. We have described these courses in detail below, listing their content and objectives and the professional skills they are designed to promote.
CEP 941: Academic Issues: At-Risk and Special Education Students
CEP 943: Multicultural Issues in Special Education
CEP 925: Applied Research Methods in Special Education
Cognate (minimum 9 credits)
The cognate is a series of courses that will help broaden the focus of your doctoral study and permit you to gain specialized knowledge in an area that is related to your research interests. You should plan your cognate in consultation with your advisor and Guidance Committee. Previous students in the special education doctoral program have pursued cognates in areas such as literacy, teacher education, educational policy, technology, sociology, and psychology.
Dissertation Credit (minimum 24 credits; maximum 30 credits)
You may take a maximum of 30 dissertation credits (CEP 999) during your PhD program. If you will be disadvantaged by the 30-credit limit (such as for Visa purposes or assistantship requirements), you may request a waiver to the maximum by preparing a waiver request (http://education.msu.edu/academics/graduate-forms.asp) and submitting it to your academic advisor and the associate dean for academic affairs. At any rate, a minimum of 24 dissertation credits is required and most of these should be taken after you advance to candidacy (i.e., pass your comprehensive examination). Occasionally it makes sense to enroll in 999s prior to candidacy. For example, there are times when a student's graduate assistantship or fellowship will pay for more credits than he or she is either willing or able to take during a semester. In that case it is worthwhile to use that support for dissertation credits rather than losing it, because students will need to buy a minimum of 24 credits at some point in order to graduate. It is not a good idea, however, to accumulate a large number of 999 credits before taking comprehensive exam. A student can gain approval for a dissertation proposal only after passing the examination. In general, the university expects that students will purchase dissertation credits at the time they are consuming faculty and facility resources to complete the dissertation. A student must be enrolled in at least one credit, many times CEP 999, during the semester they take and pass their comprehensive exam and orally defend their dissertation. Additionally, students must enroll in at least one credit each regular semester (excluding summers). Failure to enroll for longer than a period of one year will require re-admission to the program, which may or may not be granted.
IV. Program Milestones
The special education PhD program requires all students to achieve a series of program milestones. These milestones are consistent with many requirements students encounter in their courses; however, they typically go beyond course expectations. Program milestones are designed to make sure that students acquire the skills and experiences they will need to succeed in an academic position in higher education or in another leadership position. Program milestones test students’ knowledge and skills at critical points in the program, and give students experience in the types of activities, particularly research, that will enable them to successfully complete the dissertation and to get a strong start on their career as a scholar. Program milestones include:
Each program in the CEPSE Department has some form of preliminary examination; it is a departmental requirement of all doctoral students. The SPED preliminary exam assesses students’ abilities to analyze and evaluate research via participating in two independent journal reviews. The preliminary examination asks students to develop a careful analysis of a submitted article that is representative of research in special education. Each student completes two different journal reviews – each with a different faculty member. The first journal review is with the student’s advisor and the second is with another faculty member. The student must work with the Director of Doctoral Studies to coordinate the reviews as well as complete the form and file with the Director of Doctoral Studies. Ideally, each journal review should cover a different type of research methodology and these reviews are designed to be teaching or educative experiences. The journal reviews are to be peer-reviewed, reputable journals. The two journal reviews need to be completed prior to the submission of student’s second annual review. Please see Appendix B.
The College of Education requires that every doctoral student complete a research apprenticeship project. The practicum is designed as an early research experience that involves students in identifying a question or issue of interest, designing and conducting a study, and analyzing and reporting the findings. The practicum must occur prior to the comprehensive examination (i.e., a student must successfully defend their practicum defense a minimum of eight weeks prior to the comprehensive exams administration).
The goal of the apprenticeship is to promote a close link between coursework and research experiences by introducing students to the process of conducting research early in the graduate program. In general, the student designs and completes a small research project with the support of her or his practicum advisor and a “community of scholars.” The end product will be a written document that is structured like a publishable paper—with a brief review of literature, description of the author’s research method, findings, and conclusions.
The apprenticeship must be developed and conducted within a community of scholars, or group of people (i.e., students and faculty) with whom a student can share ideas, obtain feedback, and receive support. It is not designed to be an independent study in which a student works with a single faculty member without the support of additional members of a research community.
To achieve this goal, students must form an Apprenticeship Committee to support them during the apprenticeship. The student has primary responsibility for forming this committee, although the student’s advisor must approve the committee’s composition. The Apprenticeship Committee should be composed of a faculty member who agrees to chair the committee, another faculty member, and a student. The chair can be a student’s advisor, but this is not required. When considering the composition of the Apprenticeship Committee, it is vital to ask, “Will this community of scholars be able to advance my learning as a researcher?” The answer to this question will help guide final decisions in identifying a community of scholars.
The Apprenticeship Committee will evaluate the student’s final paper and presentation according to the standards described in Appendix C. Based on these guidelines, the project may be rated: (a) pass, (b) pass with revisions, or (c) revise and resubmit, with ratings based on a majority vote. The Apprenticeship Committee will offer specific guidance, in writing, for any revisions that are required. The student then will work closely with their Apprenticeship Committee chair to make the requested revisions. If resubmission is required, the full Apprenticeship Committee will reconvene to read and rate the revised paper. Multiple revisions will be permitted; however, all revisions must be completed in a timely manner if students are to stay on track for finishing the PhD within prescribed timelines.
The practicum proposal must be presented to and approved by the Apprenticeship Committee. The student must also present the final paper to the Apprenticeship Committee, in an open forum to which those interested in the student’s scholarship may be invited. The approval of the proposed practicum and the acceptance of the completed practicum by the committee are documented with the Apprenticeship Form found at http://education.msu.edu/academics/graduate-forms.asp
The apprenticeship receives 1 to 3 credits under course number CEP 995.
In summary, the Apprenticeship requires students to:
- Register for and successfully complete CEP 995 (Practicum in Research Design and Data Analysis) or an approved alternative.
- Meet regularly with an advisor to discuss plans and ideas for the practicum project and to determine if the advisor (or some other faculty member) will serve as the chair of the Apprenticeship Committee.
- Form an Apprenticeship Committee composed of at least two faculty members and one student member. The student member must have already completed his or her apprenticeship in order to serve on the committee. This committee must approve the apprenticeship plan, including: (a) the topic and (b) the overall plan for conducting the research.
- If the practicum will involve human subjects, the student must also complete a separate application with the University Committee for Research Involving Human Subjects (UCRIHS). The application form is available on the UCRIHS website. Data collection cannot commence prior to the written approval of this committee. This process can take several months, so plan ahead!
- Participate in a community of scholars as described above.
- Conduct the study and develop a final paper describing and interpreting the results.
- Present the final apprenticeship paper in an open forum to members of the Apprenticeship Committee and other.
- Obtain the signatures of your Apprenticeship Committee members on the Apprenticeship Form. This form will certify that the requirements of the apprenticeship project have been satisfied.
The comprehensive examination is designed to provide the student with an integrative learning experience—an opportunity to engage in reading, thinking, and writing that allows the student to synthesize information gleaned from multiple sources, including both formal and informal opportunities to learn. It also provides an opportunity to encourage learning activities (individual and collaborative) prior to the examination that are unlikely to take place otherwise (i.e., preparing for the examination should be an occasion for productive reading and thinking with others). The exam helps ensure that the student is adequately conversant with and knowledgeable about issues deemed essential for being a special education leader and scholar. The comprehensive exam is typically taken during the third year of doctoral study as an off-site exam.
Students register for the comprehensive examination the semester prior to the semester in which they intend to take the exam; comprehensive exams are administered Fall and Spring semester. Students should consult with their advisor before applying to take the exam. Application is made with the Coordinator of Doctoral Studies, by submitting a signed copy of the Academic Honesty and Ethical Principles and Practices form (see Appendix A) to the faculty member. Students cannot register for the Comprehensive Examination until they have successfully completed and defended their Apprenticeship and a signed copy of the Apprenticeship Form must be on file with the program a minimum of eight weeks prior to the exam administration.
There are two questions on the exam, each randomly selected from a pool of potential questions that are provided to students 8 weeks prior to the actual exam. Each question, administered on consecutive days, will be delivered electronically to each student by the Coordinator of Doctoral Studies. Students have an entire day to complete each question (i.e., 7:30am–3:30pm), unless accommodations for extended time have been approved by the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities. The members of the special education faculty evaluate responses to the examination using the procedures outlined in Appendix D.
The Committee notifies students and advisors about the results of the evaluation. If a student fails an examination question, they will be given one week from the return of the results and feedback to make revisions. After submission of the revisions, including an outline of all changes the student made and how they incorporated the feedback, special education faculty will re-evaluate the response. In the event the student passes the revised exam, they pass that question. In the event, the student does not pass the revision opportunity, they will be provided an opportunity to take the question again at the next administration of the Comprehensive Exams. The student will need to reapply. Three questions will be provided to the student 8 weeks in advance and one question randomly drawn to be administered to the student; the question will not be the same as the question the student did not pass. A student is permitted two retakes of the comprehensive examination – not counting revisions. Students who fail the examination on the third attempt will not be allowed to continue in the special education program.
The annual review in special education is designed to (a) allow students to demonstrate their mastery of an area of specialization that is of personal importance to them (e.g., assessment, policy, literacy) and (b) enable students to have first-hand experience with the activities in which they will be expected to engage as a scholar and/or teacher educator in special education. We recognize, too, that the ability to communicate is essential to all professionals in special education. Graduates of the program will need to communicate information to a broad array of audiences (e.g., teacher interns, teachers, researchers, teacher educators) and in a number of contexts (e.g., college classes, state conferences, national meetings, scholarly journals, professional trade journals). Accordingly, we recognize the importance of both oral and written language competencies in our review requirements. At each year’s annual review, students are asked to report on their progress during the previous calendar year using the following elements described below. Annual review materials are due January 15th.
There are seven elements that students will need to submit as part of their annual review materials, though not all will be submitted in a given review cycle, and some will be submitted in more than one review cycle:
- Annual Review Letter (each year). Students are required to summarize their accomplishments in the areas of research, teaching, and service/leadership from the previous calendar year (January 1 through December 31) using a review form provided for this purpose (see Appendix G) prior to the annual review deadline.
- Current Cumulative Vitae (each year). Students are required to present a professional curriculum vitae (CV) that documents their scholarly endeavors and accomplishments in the areas of research, teaching, and service/leadership. Samples of CVs may be obtained from any program faculty or from faculty web sites.
- Published Papers (at least 3 prior to defense of the dissertation, of which at least two must be research papers). Students are required to publish 3 papers during their tenure as doctoral students at MSU related to an area of specialization that has been developed in their doctoral program. At least two of these papers should each contain a report of a research study conducted by the student and be in a form suitable for submission to a scholarly journal. The papers should demonstrate the student’s: (a) understanding of theoretical perspectives appropriate to the student’s specialization; (b) knowledge of research methodology, design, and data analysis procedures; (c) ability to interpret and communicate research results; and (d) ability to draw appropriate conclusions, inferences, and generalizations. Each paper should represent a substantial and leading role in the conduct of the research and authoring of the paper by the student, though it is not necessary for the student to be the sole or lead author. Students should consult with their advisor and/or Guidance Committee members in making their plans to fulfill the research paper requirement.
- Conference Proposal Paper/Presentations (at least 3 prior to defense of the dissertation). Students are expected to display knowledge of the processes related to the communication and dissemination of their research findings to a broader audience of educators. To demonstrate this ability, students are expected to develop and submit a conference paper/presentation proposal to present their research papers at state, regional, national, or international conferences. A copy of the confirmation letter from the conference organizers and/or feedback from the reviewers of the proposal (e.g., acceptance, rejection) also should be included. Students should consult with their advisor and/or Guidance Committee members in making their plans to fulfill the conference proposal requirement.
- Demonstration of Teaching Expertise (one-time). We believe that graduates of our program should be competent instructors. To accomplish this, students must demonstrate a thorough understanding of content, display an awareness of how to present that content to a particular audience, and exhibit an understanding of the teaching-learning process. The format chosen for documenting this provides for an authentic assessment of students’ communication abilities in a way that mirrors the real world of university faculty and teacher educators. To demonstrate proficiency in teaching, we require students to submit (a) at least one teaching artifact that demonstrates the depth of the student’s understanding of the topic they taught, such as a syllabus or outline of a single course lecture AND (b) faculty and/or student evaluative data. The special education faculty will assist doctoral students by providing access to undergraduate or master’s courses when necessary. Students who have never taught at MSU are required to participate in a 3-day teaching assistant (TA) training program sponsored by the University, and international students are required to participate in a 5-day TA training program. More information about TA training can be found in the Grad TA website.
- Evidence of Scholarly Service/Leadership (at least two prior to defense of dissertation). Students are required to submit evidence of service to the field and leadership activities (e.g., serving as a conference organizer or reviewer for conference proposals, serving as a reviewer—with or without faculty supervision—of papers submitted for publication in a journal, serving in the capacity of an elected or appointed official in an education professional organization).
- Evidence of Completion of Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Training (5 hours of training are required in the first year of the PhD program and 3 hours are required in each subsequent year). Training is available through a number of venues, including some coursework, involvement on research projects, RCR workshops convened by the Graduate School or College, and tutorials for Human Subjects Research Protection available at the Human Research Required Training website and at the CITI Program website (note that both of these are required). This training is student–initiated and requires you to note your hours in a central database: you should view the instructional video on the College of Education IRTL web site to find out how to record your training hours in the Research Training Tracking System (and more information is provided in section X of this Handbook).
The student should submit completed required elements listed above with that year’s annual review materials, which are due January 15th. Materials should be submitted in digital format, such as to the Program Secretary or to D2L. The program faculty read and evaluate the annual review materials, using the criteria described in Appendix F. Students must receive an average rating (based on a simple majority of the faculty) of ADEQUATE on all scoring dimensions, which are derived from various elements, to be considered a student in good standing. If a student receives an average rating below ADEQUATE on any dimension, the student will be considered not to be in good standing and may be subject to sanctions (e.g., loss of opportunities for supplemental funding such as summer scholarships, placement on probationary status, suspension of dissertation defense, referral for formal disciplinary action, dismissal) depending on the nature and degree of inadequate progress. When limited or marginal progress is noted, the student may be required to take immediate action, with assistance from the faculty, to ameliorate specific problems in order to continue in the program. Typically, a plan of action to remedy problems is developed and implemented by the student and their advisor. Students should take special note that, although the Graduate School only requires a cumulative GPA of 3.0 to be considered in good standing, our program requires a grade of no less than 3.0 in every course applied to the doctoral degree to be considered in good standing academically.
After the student has passed the comprehensive examination, he or she draws upon prior and ongoing work to formulate a dissertation proposal. The dissertation requirement is designed to enable the student to enhance and demonstrate his or her competence in research and scholarly endeavors and make an original contribution to the body of knowledge within the field of special education. The dissertation marks the occasion for deeper investigation of research questions evolving from the student’s graduate study. Students customarily work with their advisors and other faculty in drafting and revising their proposals before submitting a formal version to their Dissertation Committee for review and recommendations.
Before completing the dissertation, students must register for at least 24 credits of CEP 999 (Dissertation Research). However, no more than 30 credits of CEP 999 should be taken, so plan when you take your dissertation credits wisely. Note that students are expected to enroll for at least one dissertation credit each regular semester (excluding summers) after advancement to doctoral candidacy (i.e., the comprehensive examination is passed) to reflect the ongoing support provided by the university, program, and faculty. Failure to enroll for longer than a period of one year will require re-admission to the program, which may or may not be granted. Note that the University requires students to be enrolled for at least one credit of CEP 999 during the semester they defend a dissertation.
The following information pertains to the nature and format of the dissertation proposal, document, and defense for the Special Education program:
- A dissertation shall consist of a written report of original research. The format of the dissertation is prescribed by the Graduate School.
- The dissertation committee shall consist of at least four regular faculty members. At least one member of the committee must be a regular special education program faculty member with an appointment in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education
- Additional voting or non-voting members may be selected in addition to the four regular faculty members required by University policy. Additional members could include, for example, a faculty member from another university or research center or an off-campus professional involved in the planning and/or execution of the project.
- The membership of the dissertation committee may be different from the membership of the student’s guidance committee, and the dissertation director may be a different person than the student’s advisor.
- The paperwork for appointing faculty to the Dissertation Committee is entitled Dissertation Director Approval and Dissertation Committee Approval. This paperwork must be initiated and routed for approval by the student through the Grad Plan web site.
- The student shall prepare, present, and defend a dissertation proposal prior to beginning any data collection. The completed written proposal must be provided to all committee members at least two weeks in advance of the scheduled proposal defense date. Approval of the proposal by the committee is required before data collection begins.
- Generally, the dissertation proposal presentation should consist of a 20-30 minute talk in which the student briefly outlines the rationale and proposed methods for the study. After the presentation, questions may be addressed to the student by the audience. The student then will be asked to leave the room while the committee deliberates on the outcome of the defense. The committee shall decide on one of four outcomes: approved with no changes, approved with changes (student’s dissertation director to be the final arbiter of the revised proposal), approved with changes (revision to be resubmitted to all committee members for re-evaluation), or rejected. Following these deliberations, the student will be apprised of the committee’s decision. Three committee members must be in attendance for the proposal meeting to be valid; electronic participation (i.e., zoom) counts as attendance.
- If the project will involve research using human subjects, an application must be submitted to the appropriate university review board (e.g., UCRIHS). Approval by the appropriate university review board is required before any data collection begins. In most cases, the student should list all members of the dissertation committee as co-investigators. The application form is available at the Human Research website. This process can take several months, so plan ahead!
- Upon conclusion of the research, the student shall prepare, present, and defend the written dissertation. Students should submit final versions of their dissertations to the Committee members at least two weeks prior to the final oral examination date. The final defense meeting serves as the student’s final certifying examination. This final presentation and defense shall follow the same procedures outlined above for the proposal defense, with the addition of a brief oral summary of the results, discussion, and recommendations. After the dissertation has been successfully defended, the student must secure the signatures of all Committee members on the Record of Completion of Requirements for Advanced Graduate Studies form (see the Grad Plan web site for initiating and routing for approval this form). A Committee member who wishes to dissent from the majority decision must submit a statement explaining his or her reasons to the Dean of the College.
- A traditional dissertation includes: (a) front matter – title page, acknowledgments, table of contents, list of tables, list of figures, and abstract; (b) introduction; (c) review of literature; (d) method; (e) results; (f) discussion; (g) recommendations; (h) references; and (i) appendices with information such as human subjects approval, copies of instruments, and raw data.
- An alternate format may be used for the written dissertation if approved by the dissertation committee at the time of the dissertation proposal defense. This alternate format consists of: (a) front matter; (b) introduction; (c) three interconnected papers that are original and conducted after the dissertation proposal is passed – with the exception of the systematic review (whose acceptance is contingent upon a vote of the dissertation committee at the proposal), (d) overall discussion that syntheses and provides implications for research and practice, and policy (if applicable), (e) references, and (f) appendices. There is no double-dipping of papers or materials used for other program requirements, such as practicum or coursework. At least one of the 3 interconnected original papers must be an original research study. It is strongly encouraged that another of the interconnected original papers be a systematic review of the literature. Other options for an original paper include another research study – original or secondary data analysis – or practitioner piece. To propose an alternative dissertation, the lit review and methods (or if a practitioner piece, the front end) must be conducted and presented for the proposal defense. The original research and associated reports for diverse audiences should represent the majority intellectual efforts of the student defending the dissertation, but these can be sole or multi-authored manuscripts (with the student listed as first author).
- The proposal defense and the defense of the completed dissertation shall be open to the public. The student should add the defense date, time, location, and title to the College of Education web calendar for dissemination at least two weeks in advance of the final defense.
- Remote participation in a dissertation proposal and/or defense via telephone/video conference is permissible so long as the majority of the committee members and the student are physically present for the entire proposal or defense.
- An electronic copy of the completed dissertation must be filed with the Graduate School via ProQuest (see instructions at the Grad Theses and Dissertation Submissions page). Electronic copies also should be made available to all of the committee members. Bound paper copies of the completed dissertation should be provided to the dissertation director and any members of the dissertation committee upon request. The University Calendar specifies a series of dates each semester that should be consulted when scheduling the examination, completing revisions, and submitting the final copies of the dissertation
- The student and dissertation committee must comply with MSU guidelines on Research Data: Management, Control, and Access. According to those guidelines, research data for projects conducted at MSU or under the auspices of MSU are the property of MSU. Therefore, students must insure that dissertation data remain at MSU. The student may take a copy of the data when they leaves the university. The Research Data: Management, Control, and Access guidelines provide additional information on this topic, including procedures for requesting transfer of data to a different institution.
- The Special Education program faculty reserve the right to prepare and submit for publication student-initiated research such as theses, practicum projects, and dissertations in the event the student has not submitted for publication the results of their thesis, practicum, or dissertation within 18 months following the formal defense of that research. In this case, order of authorship shall be negotiated between the student and faculty mentor(s).
GradPlan was developed for Ph.D. students to lay out their Ph.D. program of study, record faculty approval, and make notes on all the degree requirements as they are completed. GradPlan will be the only way final degree certification/degree audit will be conducted beginning in Spring 2017. GradPlan replaces the Report of the Guidance Committee, Record of Comprehensive Exam, and the Dissertation Final Defense form and the final certification form, the Graduate School will certify the acceptance of each dissertation final format using GradAudit. The Graduate Secretary or other department or college level designee has the final GradAudit sign off. The Office of the Registrar and the departments will access Degree Audit to complete degree certification once a student completes an application for graduation and all degree requirements are met. GradPlan, GradInfo and GradAudit help guides may be found in their help site.
V. Advising and Mentoring
The advising and mentoring relationships that students form with faculty are key elements of successful and rewarding doctoral study. The special education faculty take seriously their responsibilities as advisors and mentors. The program typically admits only one or two students per faculty each year, so that faculty can work closely with all students. The faculty benefits enormously from the expertise, experience, and contributions of our students—and we make every effort to work with you as colleagues and collaborators. When you enter the doctoral program, you will find yourself assigned to a Temporary Advisor, who will help you get started in the program and offer advice about initial coursework and research and teaching opportunities. In the first year of doctoral study (or perhaps in the second year, if studying part-time), you should form a Guidance Committee with a Guidance Committee Chair, who will offer advice on your coursework and early research experiences. Later in your program, you will choose a Dissertation director and a Dissertation Committee.
In the letter of admission, each new student is given the name, university address, and telephone number of their temporary advisor and asked to contact the advisor as soon as possible. Shortly after admission, advisors receive their new advisees’ application files.
The temporary advisor discusses with the student the nature of the program and attempts to answer questions about opportunities for assistantships, institutional expectations regarding time limits to complete the milestones, the procedures and timing for selecting a Guidance Committee and Dissertation Committee, and other details about the doctoral experience. New students receive some information about faculty associated with the program and their interests, but many advisees could benefit from scheduling meetings with faculty in other programs whose interests and commitments might connect with their own. The temporary advisor can help doctoral students make these connections.
Temporary advisors may become chair of their advisees’ Guidance Committees. Whether they assume that eventual role or not, the temporary advisor assumes the chairperson's responsibilities until a Guidance Committee is formally selected, in most cases for a year or more.
Temporary advisory assignments should be treated by both students and faculty as just what the name suggests—temporary arrangements. When a student is admitted to the program, the program coordinator assigns a temporary advisor to that student based on general area of interest and current advising loads. This relationship helps get a student started in his or her studies, but there is no reason for either party to assume that his temporary advising connection should become permanent. Once students start taking courses, meeting faculty, and exploring their interests, it is normal that they begin developing relationships with a variety of faculty members. As soon as students find someone with whom they would like to work in developing their program plan, they should initiate a formal change of advisor. For a student to make such a choice is neither surprising nor insulting to the temporary advisor, because the assumption from the start is that students are likely to associate with a faculty most aligned with their interests once they get started in the program.
Guidance Committee and Chair
Students can select their temporary advisor as their ‘permanent’ advisor (i.e., the Guidance Committee chair) if they wish. But the key point is that this is their choice, and faculty members should encourage them to exercise it in whatever ways best fit their professional and programmatic needs. Despite the name we often use to identify this person, there is nothing permanent about the Guidance Committee chair that a student chooses to help him or her through the process of program planning, comprehensive exams, and completing the dissertation. For instance, it is quite normal for a student to select another person to serve as dissertation director. Temporary advisor, Guidance Committee chair, and Dissertation Committee chair are three different roles and are frequently occupied by different faculty members during the course of a student's career in the doctoral program. It is useful for both faculty and students to consider this the norm.
Temporary advisors and their advisees work together to identify a Guidance Committee chair and additional guidance committee members. Although the temporary advisor will have been assigned to the student, the chairperson of the Guidance Committee is selected by the student and agreed to by both parties, based upon mutual interests and commitments. The guidance committee shall be formed no later than the third semester of doctoral study, or within two semesters beyond the master's degree or its equivalent. Within one semester after the committee has met, the chairperson of the guidance committee shall file a guidance committee report with the dean of the college, listing all degree requirements. A copy of this guidance committee report shall also be given to the graduate student. This guidance committee report, as changed or amended in full consultation between the graduate student and the committee and approved by the appropriate department or school chairperson or director and the dean of the college, shall be regarded as the statement of program requirements. The program will not be considered binding unless signed by the student. Preparation of this guidance committee report should be completed using GradPlan which is the web-interactive system for Ph.D. students to create and store their PhD degree plans and subsequent graduate program activities. The report of the guidance committee is created and approved electronically, and stored in GradPlan along with all other degree requirements. Visit https://gradplan.msu.edu.
The Committee and chair are responsible for working with the student on his or her program of study, up through the completion of coursework and the passing of the comprehensive examinations, events that typically occur within three years in the program. If appropriate, a student may wish to change chairpersons after completing the comprehensive examinations in order to reshape the Dissertation Committee responsible for guiding the dissertation. A student might also desire to separate the responsibilities of the chair of the Guidance Committee and the Dissertation Committee chair (in other words, to keep the permanent advisor and enlist another individual to serve as the director of the dissertation).
In order to help maximize the student's academic and professional growth, the Guidance Committee chairperson is at minimum responsible for the following:
- Assisting the student in selecting appropriate faculty members for the guidance committee
- Aiding the student in scheduling and preparing for a meeting of the Guidance Committee to approve the student’s program plan (three committee members must be present to constitute an official meeting)
- Coordinating the activities of the student and Guidance Committee as they: plan the program, prepare for the comprehensive examination, develop questions for the examination, and consider and revise dissertation ideas for the development of the proposal
- Resolving conflicting issues or problems that may arise between committee members and the student
- Helping to identify and recruit new or additional Guidance Committee members, if necessary or appropriate
- Helping the student to understand and fulfill all of the requirements and policies of the department, the college, and the university
A Guidance Committee must include at least four regular, tenure-stream Michigan State University faculty members. The four regular faculty members need not all be from the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education; indeed, faculty from other departments and colleges can provide enormous benefits to our students, and the chairperson should not hesitate to recommend adding faculty from other units to the guidance committee. Additional faculty from other groups, including adjunct, emeritus, and faculty from other universities may augment the four regular members. Representatives from such groups, however, may not substitute for the four regular faculty members.
The Guidance Committee members should possess interests compatible with those of the student, and should have strengths to contribute to the student’s academic, professional, and scholarly growth. The student may initiate changes in membership of the committee, with the concurrence of the Guidance Committee chairperson and acknowledgment of the committee members. Similarly, faculty members may be added to or may resign from committees with the concurrence of the department chairperson and acknowledgment of other committee members.
Dissertation Committee and Director
The selection of a Dissertation director and a Dissertation Committee are critical decisions, and students should think carefully about faculty who can lend the best possible expertise and support to their efforts at the dissertation stage of doctoral study. Often, a student’s Guidance Committee becomes the Dissertation Committee—and the chair becomes the dissertation director. But, this need not be the case. Dissertations benefit from more specific faculty strengths, in certain methodological or substantive areas, for example, and changes in the committee are logical after the program of study and comprehensive examinations are completed. However, once a committee is formed, it is to the student’s benefit to maintain the continuity of its membership. Students must have a dissertation proposal approved by their Dissertation Committee before beginning their dissertation research.
Visit the Forms for Graduate Students website for all forms relevant to advisors and dissertation
VI. Annual Evaluation of Student Progress
Each year, the tenure-stream faculty conducts an annual evaluation of all special education doctoral students. The purpose of the evaluation is to ensure that each student is making satisfactory progress toward the completion of their program and toward the fulfillment of their professional goals.
The special education program secretary sends students a copy of the annual review materials. Students are asked to: (a) write an annual review letter about their progress in research, teaching, service/leadership, and program milestones and coursework, their immediate future goals, their strengths and areas for growth, and ways in which the program faculty can assist their endeavors; (b) construct a cumulative current CV; and (c) compile completed and approved required elements. The due date for annual review materials is January 15th.
The purpose of the annual review is to offer constructive feedback to students. The annual evaluation helps assure that all students will graduate in a timely manner, and with the skills and experiences they need to become successful scholars and teacher educators. The tenure-stream faculty meet, as a group, to review each student’s materials and overall progress. The review results in a detailed discussion about each student’s strengths and areas for growth. Following the faculty meeting and review, the Director of Doctoral Studies completes a summary and letters for the student regarding their annual review and progress. This evaluation form is entered into the student’s file and a copy is retained by the student’s advisor and the office of the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.
The program faculty use the criteria described in Appendix F. Students must receive an average rating of Adequate from a simple majority of the faculty for each criterion. If a student receives an average rating below ADEQUATE on any dimension, the student will be considered not to be in good standing and may be subject to sanctions. These sanctions may include: loss of opportunities for supplemental funding such as summer scholarships and travel funding, placement on probationary status, suspension of dissertation defense, referral for formal disciplinary action, or dismissal. If a student receives an average rating less than Adequate, the student, with assistance from the student’s advisor, should take immediate action to rectify the inadequacies noted to avoid sanctions and make acceptable progress. In some cases where there are significant problems with a student’s progress, they may be required to ameliorate specific problems in order to continue in the program. In these cases, a written plan of action to remedy problems is developed and implemented by the student and their advisor. NOTE: It is expected that special education program PhD students not only maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 in accordance with Graduate School requirements, but that they also attain a minimum grade of 3.0 in every course for which they plan to apply towards the doctoral degree.
VII. Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution
The University has established a judicial structure and process for hearing and adjudicating alleged violations of recognized graduate student rights and responsibilities (GSRR, Article 5). The first venue to resolve such conflicts informally or formally rests within the academic unit. Because the faculty advisor-graduate student relationship is deemed so important, special attention should be given to the resolution of conflicts between a graduate student and his or her faculty advisor.
MSU expectations for acceptable student conduct are specified in the regulations and the rights and responsibilities sections of the Spartan Life Student Handbook and Resource Guide. Students must also abide by the bylaws and policies of the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education.
Usually the best approach to resolving a problem is through informal discussion and negotiation when the problem first arises. Discussion and negotiation amongst the parties in a conflict may not only help to resolve the original conflict but can lead to better communication and more positive working relationships in the future. In addition, there usually are more options for solving a problem at the early stages of a conflict than later when working relationships may become seriously compromised or when the problem grows in complexity.
Try to resolve problems through discussions with the people who are immediately involved in the issue. In the special education program, you should consider speaking with the course instructor (if the problem is specific to a course), your supervisor (if the problem is specific to a graduate assistantship position), your advisor, the special education coordinator, and/or the Department chairperson.
If your problem cannot be resolved at the departmental level or if you prefer discussing the matter with someone from outside the department, consider seeking help from the MSU Ombudsman, the Judicial Affairs Office, the Women's Resource Center, the Associate Dean for Student Affairs in the College of Education, or the Dean of the Graduate School. The Graduate School conducts workshops on Communicating Your Message: Effective Communication Strategies That Work on Setting Expectations and Resolving Conflicts that are designed to help graduate students work effectively with their faculty mentors and to make good progress toward their degrees. Any group of students or faculty may request these programs.
If the above strategies for remedying problems have been attempted, without successful results, the student may wish to file a formal complaint with the Department. The Department chair should be contacted by the student, and the chair will decide if the issue can be resolved at the department level, or if it should be brought to the attention of others, such as the Dean of the College or the University Provost’s Office. All graduate students should familiarize themselves with the information contained in Graduate Students Rights and Responsibilities at Michigan State University (http://splife.studentlife.msu.edu/). The University Ombudsman’s office provides guidance for determining the viability of a grievance and discusses the procedure for filing a formal grievance. You can view this information at https://www.msu.edu/unit/ombud/. At any point, students may appeal to the University Ombudsman for assistance or advice.
Professional Ethics in Research and Practice
As teachers and scholars interested in improving outcomes for individuals with disabilities, we hold ourselves to high professional standards in our research, teaching, and other professional practices. One set of standards to which we hold ourselves and, consequently our students, is the Council for Exceptional Children’s Code of Ethics for Educators of Persons with Exceptionalities. These professional standards are detailed in Appendix M.
As scholars, we also must be held accountable to a set of standards that guide our research and creative activity. As described in the MSU Graduate Student Handbook, “integrity in research and creative activities is based on sound disciplinary practice as well as on a commitment to basic values such as fairness, equity, honesty, and respect.” At your doctoral student orientation, you will be provided with a copy of Guidelines for Integrity in Research and Creative Activities. It is extremely important that you read over these guidelines and talk to your advisor or other faculty about any questions you may have about them. You must also become knowledgeable the University’s procedures for research involving human subjects. At MSU, the University Committee on Research Involving Human Subjects (UCRIHS) oversees all research involving human subjects. Before you even submit a proposal for conducting research with human subjects, you must complete a tutorial about human subjects policies, available at http://www.humanresearch.msu.edu/requiredtraining.html. UCRIHS also offers workshops throughout the year about research ethics and policies. You will receive information about these from the special education program secretary. You are strongly encouraged to attend one of these workshops.
VIII. Retention and Dismissal Policies
University Timelines for Completion of Degree
The University establishes explicit guidelines for the completion of graduate degrees at Michigan State University. Comprehensive examinations must be passed within five years and all remaining requirements for the PhD must be completed within eight years from the time a student begins the first class at MSU that appears on his or her doctoral program of study.
Application for extensions of the eight-year period of time toward degree must be submitted by the department/school for approval by the dean of the college and the Dean of the Graduate School. Upon approval of the extension, doctoral comprehensive examinations must be passed again.
Program Timelines for Degree Completion
Although the University allows for five years for the comprehensive exams and eight years for the completed degree, the Special Education Program requires that all program requirements – including but not limited to the dissertation – be completed within five years from the time a student first enrolled as a doctoral student. In the event a student is unable to complete their program degree requirements within five years due to extenuating, individual circumstances, they can make a request for an extension to the special education faculty in the semester prior to the five years occurring (i.e., Spring semester). Extensions are only granted based on extenuating circumstances and are not guaranteed.
Retention and Dismissal Overview
Program faculty annually review each student’s performance and progress in the program, as described above. Faculty also may initiate a review of the student’s status in the program in the event of any evidence that indicates a violation of the University’s regulations (for MSU General Student Regulations see Spartan Life Student Handbook and Resource Guide), legal statutes, or ethical and professional standards. Examples of violations include but are not limited to criminal misconduct, academic dishonesty, unethical practices, or unprofessional behavior. The review process consists of examining the nature of the problem, violation, or alleged misconduct and the accompanying evidence with the student. The outcome of the review may be (a) to retain the student in good standing, (b) to allow the student to continue in the program on probationary status until specified conditions are met, or (c) to immediately dismiss the student from the program. The faculty reserves the right to restrict a student’s participation in coursework, teaching, and research involving human subjects during the review process. The procedures for the review are described below.
Retention and Dismissal Procedures
To protect student due process rights as well as the rights of faculty to uphold the academic and professional standards of the doctoral program, the following steps will be taken as part of the review process:
- The student will be informed in writing by the Special Education Director of any charge, event, performance, or circumstance that suggests inadequate progress or performance in the program or violation of University, legal, ethical, or professional codes. Such charges or complaints may emanate from members of the program, College, or University faculty, clinical supervisors, clients, or professionals and agents outside of the University community.
- As part of the above communication, the Program Director may initially advise the student to seek an informal resolution of the charge or complaint with the accusing party, and to inform the Coordinator of the outcome of this action within 30 days.
- If, however, informal methods at problem resolution are inappropriate or unsatisfactory, the Program Director will inform in writing the student, the student's advisor, and other relevant parties that the student’s status in the program is being reviewed and that a formal meeting of the program faculty will be necessary to evaluate the nature of the problem and to decide on a course of action. Depending on the nature of the concern, event, performance, or circumstance, a student’s status in the program may be in immediate jeopardy and the goal of the review would then be for faculty to decide whether to retain or dismiss the student from the program.
The Program Director may invite any persons judged to have relevant information to submit such information either in person at this meeting or in writing prior to the meeting. The student will be given copies of all written materials under consideration in advance of the meeting. The student and, if desired, their counsel would be invited to attend this meeting and to present testimony. In addition, the student may invite other individuals who have relevant testimony to attend the meeting or to present written information. The student will provide the Program Director with a list of these individuals at least 5 days in advance of the scheduled meeting.
- Following the presentation of testimony and evidence, the program faculty will convene separately to deliberate and to arrive at a decision regarding the student’s standing in the program. This decision may result in either (a) retention of the student in the program in good standing, (b) a judgment to allow the student to continue in the program on probationary status until specified conditions are met, or (c) immediate dismissal of the student from the special education program.
- Following completion of the program faculty’s decision-making, the Program Director will inform the student and the student’s advisor in writing of the faculty’s decision and, if appropriate, clearly specify what, if any, conditions must be satisfied by the student to maintain his or her good standing in the program. The student will also be advised that if he or she wishes to grieve the outcome of the faculty’s decision, the grievance procedures specified in Graduate Student Rights and Responsibilities should be followed.
Dismissal from the Program
The dismissal of a student from the special education doctoral program is a significant event for both the student and the program faculty. It represents the conclusion of the faculty that the student has not demonstrated an adequate level of competency in academic or research skills or professional conduct. Dismissal action is generally the final outcome of several informal and formal communications with the student regarding his or her unsatisfactory progress through the program and, when appropriate, special efforts at helping the student meet program requirements and training objectives. The final decision regarding whether or not a student should be terminated from the program, or under what conditions a student making unsatisfactory progress will be allowed to continue, rests with the tenure-stream special education faculty.
At any point during the student’s matriculation, the faculty retains the right to review any student circumstances or personal performances that may negatively affect the student’s competencies for independent professional practice or that may threaten the welfare of others. The following are offered as examples of circumstances or performances that may be the basis for dismissal action:
- Failure to maintain minimum academic standards
- Unsatisfactory performance in practice courses (e.g., practica, research apprenticeship)
- Failure to remediate deficiencies identified in annual student evaluations
- Failure to enroll in at least one credit each regular semester (excluding summers) for over a year (this automatically requires re-admission to the program, which may or may not be granted)
- Academic dishonesty
- Criminal misconduct
- Failure to comply with established University or program timetables and requirements
- Unethical practices and/or unprofessional conduct as specified in the Council for Exceptional Children’s Code of Ethics for Educators of Persons with Disabilities (http://www.cec.sped.org/Standards/Ethical-Principles-and-Practice-Standards?sc_lang=en)
- Failure to make satisfactory progress in completing program requirements
- Failure to maintain regular contact with the program and one’s advisor
IX. Records Policies
The special education program maintains records documenting each student’s progress through the doctoral program. These records, which are maintained in the program secretary’s files, include the program plan, guidance committee form, preliminary exam completion form, research apprenticeship completion form, comprehensive exam completion form, teaching and assistantship evaluations, dissertation paperwork, portions of the original application to the program, and other materials that are deemed necessary. Additionally, to facilitate student advising, advisors may keep files containing such items as their advisees’ grade transcripts, comprehensive exam responses, and dissertation drafts. All student records are kept in secure filing cabinets or private offices to protect students’ privacy and confidentiality; only program faculty and staff will have access to this material. Students are strongly advised to maintain copies of forms for their personal records.
Students may request to examine their own files; this request should be directed to the student’s advisor or the Area Coordinator. The only material that will be withheld is that which the student has clearly waived his or her right to examine, e.g., confidential reference letters. (Other than the latter, files generally only contain records of which students already possess copies.) Once students graduate, a permanent file is maintained by the program which, among other things, may assist documentation for future employment and credentialing.
X. Responsible Conduct of Research
As of September 2011, Michigan State University requires that all graduate students and research project staff be trained in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) as part of their research experience. For the purposes of RCR training compliance, the training year for special education program students runs from 8/16 to the Annual Review due date of the following year (e.g., 8/16/18–1/1/19).
||Year 1 Initial Training
||Refresher Training Annually After Year 1
- Human Research Protection Program (2 hours)
- Conflict of Interest (30 min)
- Research Misconduct Issues and/or Authorship and Data Issues (1 hour)
- Additional Discussion of Issues Related to Responsible Conduct of Research (1.5 hours)
- Complete the Required Recertification for Human Research Protection (1-2 hours)
- Additional Discussion of Issues Related to Responsible Conduct of Research
- Participate in Workshops Described Under Initial Certification
How do I log my hours using the Research Training Tracking System (RTTS)?
- Students are responsible for tracking their RCR training hours in the Research Training Tracking System (RTTS) as required by the College of Education.
- Creating your account: As you complete RCR trainings/educational activities, please log-in to RTTS at https://www.egr.msu.edu/secureresearchcourses/ by providing your MSU Net ID (i.e., email without the “msu.edu”), password, your academic program and your advisor’s MSU Net ID. Click on “Create/Edit Trainee Account” and follow the directions for creating your account.
- Adding completed training information to RTTS: Use the “Edit Account Information” button and then click the “Add Course from Primary College/Department” to enter training information. A tutorial video is available at http://education.msu.edu/irtl/training/
Examples of RCR Education/Training Content & Resources
Appendix A: Ethics in Regard To Preliminary and Comprehensive Examination
Academic Honesty and Ethical Principles and Practices
Appendix B: CEPSE Preliminary Examination Guidelines
Special Education Preliminary Exam Completion Form
Appendix C: SPED Research Practicum Completion Form
SPED Research Practicum Completion Form
Appendix D: Special Education Program Doctoral Comprehensive Examination
Special Education Program Doctoral Comprehensive Examination
The University and Department require a doctoral comprehensive examination covering the major and related fields. The Special Education Program (SPED) policy is intended to supplement these policies and provides specific information concerning the format and content of the exam. Students are responsible for being familiar with the University, Department, and SPED policies on comprehensive exams. The SPED policy has been integrated into the text of the Department policy below and is marked in bold.
COMPREHENSIVE EXAMINATIONS FOR DOCTORAL STUDENTS IN COUNSELING, EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, AND SPECIAL EDUCATION (CEPSE)
University regulations require that all doctoral candidates take comprehensive examinations. The CEPSE faculty believes that it is essential that students receiving Ph.D. degrees from the Department have an understanding of their fields beyond that gained in courses. The comprehensive exams give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to integrate and use information acquired from various readings or courses, as well as to demonstrate their ability to clearly communicate ideas in an acceptable writing style, which reflects good grammar, organization, and composition.
The exams are not meant to measure all of the many qualities that are important requisites of an educator, researcher, or psychologist. The exam is an assessment of each candidate’s understanding of areas of knowledge thought to be important for doctoral level scholarship.
The comprehensive examination provides an occasion that allows students to review and integrate a large fund of knowledge from multiple domains into a meaningful perspective. Typically, students take the comprehensive exam in the spring semester of their third year or the fall semester of their fourth year in the program. The timing is designed to ensure that students have an adequate base of preparation for the exam and that this preparation does not conflict with the completion of other program requirements. Students must complete a substantial amount of their coursework and the apprenticeship project prior to taking the comprehensive exam; guidance committees will determine what constitutes a substantial amount of coursework. University regulations specify that students must pass the comprehensive exam prior to holding the dissertation proposal meeting. Comprehensive exams must be passed within five years of the student’s initial enrollment in the program.
- GENERAL POLICIES AND REQUIREMENTS
- Policies and Procedures
- Comprehensive examinations are required of all doctoral students after eighty percent of the prescribed coursework has been completed, but within five years from the date the student was admitted to the program.
- The examination may not be taken until the candidate’s academic program has been approved and filed with the Student Affairs Office. Failure to do so renders the exam invalid.
- Students planning to take the comprehensive examination must apply in writing before the end of the registration period. Both new candidates and those retaking part or all of the examination must file the Application for Comprehensive Examination (Appendix A) with the Director of Doctoral Studies.
- Candidates may count courses taken during the term immediately preceding the examination as meeting the requirement that 80% of coursework be completed before taking the exam.
- All examinees are required to attempt all designated items for the exam on the first attempt.
- All examinees must have submitted the apprenticeship paper to their committee before taking the comprehensive examination. Advisor approval of the submission must be received by the Director of Doctoral Studies by July 15 prior to the fall comprehensive exam date, or by December 1 prior to the Spring comprehensive exam date.
- Students must be registered for classes (at least one credit) the semester of the exam. Fall registration is required for the August exam and spring registration for the January exam.
- COMPOSITION AND DEVELOPMENT
- Content Areas and Length
Content areas and length of exams are determined at the program level.
Special Education Comprehensive Exam Composition
The comprehensive exam in SPED consists of two (2) questions selected randomly from a question pool by the Director of Doctoral Studies in Special Education prior to the examination period. One question will be randomly selected from a group of questions that address general issues in special education research, policy, and practice. Another question will be randomly selected from a group of questions that address specialized interests (an area of emphasis/strand/cognate) of the student and research methodology in special education. The selected questions will be provided to the student by the exam administrator, one question per day, over two successive days during the examination period. The student will be given one day, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., to respond to each of the questions. Responses to each question should not exceed 30 double-spaced pages (12-point font with one-inch margins), excluding the reference list. Students are permitted to use any materials they chose during the examination period and are required to provide a reference list for each question to accompany citations used in the response. The exam period should be used to revise and refine initial drafts of question responses developed during the study period to submit final documents for evaluation by the faculty (i.e., use the exam day to polish a draft response so that it is a superlative effort to respond to the question assigned at random).
The question pool, developed by the graduate faculty in SPED who teach core courses in the program of study, is developed annually to be used for the comprehensive examination. The questions possess the following characteristics:
- Each question is sufficiently broad in scope such that it extends beyond the content covered in core program coursework vis-à-vis integration with other issues in the field of special education and connections with other relevant disciplinary bodies of knowledge;
- At least one question represents an area of emphasis/strand/cognate in a student’s program plan that requires a depth of analysis beyond that typically required in completing a course assignment; and
- At least two questions represent methodological issues or approaches that are relevant to a student’s program plan/potential research interests; the questions should be specific enough to allow the student to produce responses that examine closely a defined set of problems and solutions in addressing these issues or approaches.
The question pool will be released eight weeks prior to the commencement of the 2-day examination period to each student who has been approved for taking the comprehensive examination. Students should view each question in the pool as a potential examination question, and should use the time between the release of the question pool and the examination period for advance preparation. During this time, students may wish to formulate written responses to all of the potential questions, consult any relevant materials, and collaborate with peers to prepare for examination (during the examination period proper, collaboration with others is not permitted, but the use of other resources such as the Internet, journal articles and books, course notes, or drafts of responses is permitted). Faculty members are not permitted to provide any substantive input to students regarding the potential questions or preparatory activities.
- Examination Procedure
Examinations in each program area are written and evaluated by the faculty of the interest area. When there are few regular faculty available or an unusually large number of candidates to be examined, one or more qualified faculty from other areas may be added to the area faculty. The preparation of final copies of examination questions and the administration of the examination will be coordinated by the Coordinator of Doctoral Studies.
Fall comprehensive exams are given during the week before or the week that classes begin. Spring comprehensive exams are given during the week classes begin.
Students with special needs requiring special arrangements should see the Director of Doctoral Studies at the time of application for the exam (a MSU VISA will be required).
Students will be sent via email the exam question for each day of the 2-day examination period from the administrator on the morning of the exam at 7:30 a.m. and return the completed exam by 3:30 p.m. of the same day. Students will complete at a place of their own choosing without the assistance of others. Students who are approved for an extended time accommodation will be permitted to have up to one additional day to complete their examination.
- STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES
To ensure the security and integrity of the examination process, it is expected that students and faculty will abide by the procedures outlined in the document titled Academic Honesty and Ethical Principles and Practices. All students must read and sign this attachment and submit it to the Director of Doctoral Studies before taking the comprehensive exam.
- SCORING AND EVALUATION
Scoring procedures are set at the program level.
Special Education Comprehensive Exam Scoring Procedures
All responses to the selected questions will be scored by a graduate faculty judging panel composed of three special education faculty members.
Faculty judges will designate each question as PASS, MARGINAL PASS, or FAIL. A student passes a question if all faculty judges designate a PASS or MARGINAL PASS for that question, but each question must be passed in order to pass the examination. A student fails the examination if either of the two questions is failed; a question is failed if at least two judges designate a FAIL. Each question for which a designation of FAIL has been assigned must be retaken following CEPSE retake policies and procedures (see below), which include the development of a formal study plan. Students who receive a majority of MARGINAL PASS designations or a solitary FAIL designation for one or both questions must meet with their Guidance Committee to develop a review plan to address the deficiencies evident in their response(s). Any designation of FAIL or MARGINAL PASS will be accompanied by detailed written feedback for the student.
- Reporting and Interpreting Results
The program reports all examination results at a meeting of the faculty, following which results are available from the student’s advisor. It is the responsibility of the advisor to go over student responses and the raters’ comments with students requesting such a review. Comprehensive examination results will be reported not later than 30 days following the last day of the examination period.
- Revisions (rev. April 2017)
If a student fails a comp question – or both – they would be allocated one week to revise the question – or questions – to be re-evaluated. The revised responses – inclusive of using track changes and a summary of the changes or how they responded to reviewer’s feedback – will be re-evaluated for the faculty. In the event the revisions are not satisfactory (passed), the student will take comps again at the next administration and 2 new questions will be randomly selected for administration. If a student fails the 2nd administration, they is given another week to make revisions and have the responses re-evaluated. In the event the student does not pass the revisions, they is dismissed from the program.
- STUDY AIDS
Questions on the exam are not limited to the content of particular courses. The student’s understanding of an examination area is expected to be greater in breadth and depth than that generally required of a particular course in that area.
- Individual Preparation
The coursework and reading throughout the doctoral program provide general preparation for comprehensive examinations. It is also expected that students will reduce their coursework prior to and during comprehensive exams, allowing three to six months for more intensive, critical study.
- Study Groups
Informal study groups, arranged by the candidates themselves, are considered to be the most efficient and pleasurable means of preparation. The methods of these groups vary, but critical discussion of concepts, methods, applications, and issues encountered in reading is often profitable. Posing questions to one another to be answered in writing and critically reviewing the answers is another technique that some groups have found useful in preparation for comprehensive exams.
- Writing Hints
There are no infallible guides to good writing; however, students taking comprehensive examinations are expected to demonstrate sufficient mastery of language and writing skills to communicate intelligently and effectively with other professionals. Answers to the comprehensive examination questions should model the organization, directness, clarity of expression, and quality of analysis that one typically expects from an educated and disciplined person.
Students may want to review the following five suggestions before taking comprehensive exams.
- Answer the question that is asked. It is crucial that one carefully reads the verb in the instruction. Students under stress will sometimes try to write down everything they know in a general subject area rather than addressing themselves directly to the specific question asked in the examination. While evaluators are concerned with assessing the extent of a student’s knowledge in a particular content area, they are more concerned with the student’s capacity to use, focus, and manipulate that knowledge to respond directly to the specific question asked.
- Work from a suitable design.
*Timing: Because students taking comprehensive exams are subject to time limitations in devising their answers, students should attempt to plan for the most effective utilization of the time available. Such planning requires that the students make some assessment of the task before them, break the task down into its component parts, and make appropriate time allocations for each component.
*Structure, Organization, and Strategy: If the student is writing an essay, it should have a clear beginning, middle and end. In order to give answers coherence, students should advance some single dominant strategy or organizational pattern and stick to it.
- Support your ideas with the best possible evidence, but avoid unnecessary repetition. Students should develop their ideas and demonstrate the depth of their understanding of a content area by providing supporting data, details, examples, and other evidence, and by citing expert opinion; however, students should be alert to the danger of adding words without adding meaning.
- Be as clear and concise as possible, and use standard English. Evaluators of answers to comprehensive examinations cannot help but be influenced by the writer’s communication skills; therefore, students should make every effort to conform to the standard conventions of good writing: parallel structure, appropriate punctuation, fully developed paragraphs, complete sentences, transition between paragraphs, etc
- Use orthodox spelling. If the answer contains many misspelled words, these words will distract the readers’ attention, exhaust their patience, and eventually create a general negative bias toward the writer.
- The demonstration of good writing skills (grammar, spelling, organization of answers) is considered essential for passing the comprehensive exams, and evidence of poor writing is a basis for failing the exams. You are encouraged to proofread, and may make the necessary grammatical and typographical corrections in pen or pencil.
- Further Information
The Director of Doctoral Studies is available to advise students who have procedural questions about the examination.
Adopted September 15, 1997
Retake Policy revised April 26, 1999
Revisions approved March 25, 2002
Special Education Program policy revised February 23, 2015
Special Education Program policy revised April 2017
Appendix E: Annual Review Materials Evaluation Criteria
Annual Review Materials Evaluation Criteria
Appendix F: Special Education PhD Annual Review Form
SPED PhD Annual Review Form