Personnel Preparation Standards

Prior to EI/ECSE Standards

Initial Practice-Based Professional Preparation Standards

for Early Interventionists/Early Childhood Special Educators (EI/ECSE)

(Initial birth through age 8)


The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), in partnership with CEC’s Division for Early Childhood (DEC) through an Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education (EI/ECSE) Standards Development Task Force, established this set of Practice-Based Professional Preparation Standards Early Interventionists/Early Childhood Special Educators (EI/ECSE) that define what EI/ECSE candidates need to know and be able to do at the completion of their initial educator preparation programs. High quality personnel preparation is essential to ensuring positive outcomes for young children birth through third grade who have or are at-risk for developmental delays or disabilities and their families. The EI/ECSE Standards represent the first Standards to focus specifically on the preparation of early intervention/early childhood special education (EI/ECSE) who work with young children ages birth through eight who have or are at-risk for developmental delays and disabilities and their families, across home, classroom and community settings. These Standards build on the history of EI/ECSE as an integrative but unique field of study, policy, research, and practice and emphasize the unique skills and knowledge required for specialization in working with young children and their families.


Why EI/ECSE Standards?

The national landscape of services for all young children, including those who have or are at-risk for developmental delays and disabilities, has changed dramatically over the past four decades. The passage of P.L. 99-457 in 1986 resulted not only in dramatic increases in the number of young children being served, but also in professional interest and research related to the characteristics of services that best addressed the needs of this population of children and their families. Concurrently, professional groups and organizations, policy-makers, and researchers began to re-envision and study the roles, practices, and educational requirements of the EI/ECSE responsible for providing intervention and instruction to young children and their families.


As the field of early childhood continued to advance, it became clear that in addition to defining the role of the EI/ECSE, clarification of this discipline, in relation to the role of the early childhood educator (ECE), would be critical. The Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) joined the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and 15 other organizations in the work of the Power to the Profession (2016-2020) task force as a means toward this goal. The Power to the Profession task force has clearly defined ECE as a distinct profession. The EI/ECSE role was identified as a specialization within that profession that requires its own qualifications and standards. A set of standards unique to  EI/ECSE provides a comparable set of standards to ECE and adds clarification to the complexity of the overlapping yet distinct sets of skills and knowledge of the ECE and EI/ECSE. 


Collaborative partnerships with related services disciplines [e.g., occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT), speech/language (SLP)] in the preparation of personnel to work with children birth through eight years have been advocated for more than three decades. To support efforts in cross disciplinary personnel preparation, the Early Childhood Personnel Center (ECPC) facilitated a cross disciplinary collaboration with DEC of CEC and related services professional associations representing OT, PT, SLP, and other early intervention providers. The purpose of this collaborative work was to develop a set of standards and resources to guide personnel preparation programs across the disciplines to integrate the unique competencies needed in working with infants, toddlers, and young children and their families into their respective preparation programs. Collaborative initiatives such as these, however, have been complicated by the fact that for special educator preparation for the birth through 8 age range there were no comparable set of standards. While, DEC as a division of CEC has a specialty set of knowledge and skill statements that articulate unique content to be addressed in the personnel preparation for special educators working in EI/ECSE, there were no personnel preparation standards specific to this age range. Having a set of standards for the preparation of special educators that addresses the birth through 8 age range and aligns with the Special Educator k – 12 standards provides a continuum of special education personnel preparation standards birth through 21. Having the two sets of special education standards provides clarity to both as to competencies that are common across the age span as well as clarifying those that are unique to EI/ECSE and thus facilitates our collaborative work across disciplines.


The body of work resulting from these movements have had implications for the quality and curricula of personnel preparation programs designed to prepare highly qualified personnel, and for the consistency of preparation and licensing requirements. The potential roles for which new EI/ECSE professionals are being prepared vary widely, reflecting not only the varied settings in which services may occur but also the unique set of values and practices that have emerged from research and experience. EI/ECSE professionals must be prepared to work with children who range in age from birth through eight years, covering a period of rapid developmental change. For young children who have or are at-risk for developmental delays or disabilities, EI/ECSE professionals must be able to integrate knowledge of how conditions both within children and within children's everyday home and community environments may influence their development and learning at different ages, resulting in a careful consideration of preventive, ameliorative, and functional goals and outcomes, as well as the array of intervention and instructional approaches appropriate for each age, within the context of children's natural environments. EI/ECSE professionals work closely with families who represent increasing diversity in culture, language, and socioeconomic conditions, and these professionals respect and support families as decision-makers and as essential partners in supporting their child’s growth and development. EI/ECSE professionals also work in a wide variety of early childhood education programs including those in schools, homes, and community, each requiring different sets of skills, with roles as direct service providers, consultants, coaches, and service coordinators.


The diversity of potential roles for which EI/ECSE must be prepared are grounded in a core set of beliefs and practices that underlie all roles, in congruence with research, professional opinion, policy, and recommended practices. Several core themes are emphasized throughout all of the proposed Standards, including:

  • an emphasis on families, including families as decision-makers and as partners in supporting and strengthening family capacity and promoting children's development and learning;

  • recognition and respect for diversity as represented by the cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic conditions of families, staff, and programs, and by the various developmental delays and disabilities represented in children;

  • an expectation for equity for all children and families, with an emphasis on full access to, participation in, and support from programs and professionals, and for intervention and instruction that are based in and seek to enhance children's natural environments through a range of approaches, including a multi-faceted use of technology;

  • an expectation for individualized, developmentally, age, and functionally-appropriate intervention and instruction based on sound knowledge of each child's and each family's assets, needs, and preferences for services; and

  • an emphasis on partnership, collaboration and team interaction that influences the availability and quality of services for children and families, as well as team structures and processes for collaboration within programs and service systems.


Central to all of our work in EI/ECSE and reflected in the core beliefs and practices noted above is inclusion. Inclusion in the early childhood years (birth through age 8) embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant, toddler, and young child and their family to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of their communities and society. Each and every child should have equitable access to high quality early childhood educational opportunities. High quality early childhood education refers to opportunities where all children are provided with individualized and appropriate supports using evidence-based interventions and practices. These early experiences for children and their families lead to a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to meet high expectations. The defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high quality early childhood programs and services are access, participation, and supports. EI/ECSE professionals work in partnerships with the family and the other individuals in the child and family’s lives to ensure that the services experienced by children and families are consistent and integrated.


High quality educator preparation equates to EI/ECSE professionals’ expertise which directly impacts outcomes for children and families. The CEC Initial Practice-Based Professional Preparation Standards for Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education are grounded in current evidence based practices in EI/ECSE, which reflect current research as well as professional and family wisdom. The Standards are designed to provide a foundation that will be consistent across educator preparation programs in EI/ECSE, as well as provide guidance for state licensure aligned with research, policy, and professional opinion related to young children, families, and services.

Standards Development

How were the EI/ECSE Standards developed?

The concepts represented in the EI/ECSE Standards are grounded in contemporary theoretical constructs of early childhood development and learning. They reflect the best available, empirical evidence in EI/ECSE,  as well as current supporting legislation and the wisdom and experience of the field. The Standards Development Task Force used multiple sources of information, literature, and resources throughout the standards development process in order to represent the specialized knowledge and skills required of beginning EI/ECSE professionals. The Standards are informed by guiding principles found in the DEC Recommended Practices (DEC, 2014) and NAEYC Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP) (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). The development process was also informed by previous sets of standards, including those of CEC and NAEYC, as well as by the InTASC Core Teaching Standards and CAEP Elementary Education standards. Additional resources consulted in developing each Standard also included the DEC Specialty Sets (reference needed) within the CEC Standards,  CECs High Leverage Practices (McLeskey et al., 2017), professional association position statements and codes of ethics, research studies, and descriptions of practice in recent literature.


What are the CEC Initial Practice-Based Professional Preparation Standards for Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education?

The EI/ECSE Standards define the essential knowledge, skills, practices, and dispositions required of early intervention/early childhood special educators at the completion of an initial educator preparation program.  The Standards are built upon the concepts of developmentally appropriate and family-centered practice, as they apply to young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays or disabilities and their families. They are intentionally written to cross age ranges and settings, including children and their families from birth through two years who receive Early Intervention (EI) services; preschool children from three through five years of age; and children from six through eight years who receive Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) services.


The Standards are organized into seven essential areas. Additionally, the Standards define field and clinical experiences that support candidates in applying knowledge and practicing skills. These essential areas are built upon the underlying foundational themes outlined above, which are elevated within and integrated across all Standards.

Standard 1, Child Development and Learning, emphasizes the importance of knowledge of relevant theoretical perspectives, developmental sequences, and individual differences in development and learning based on biological and environmental conditions, as well as the application and translation of that knowledge in developing assessment, curriculum, instruction, and intervention.


Standard 2, Partnering with Families, focuses on using knowledge of family systems theory and family-centered practices to build partnerships with families, apply family capacity building practices to support informed decision-making and advocacy, and engage families as active team members.


Standard 3, Collaboration and Teaming, centers around applying teaming and collaboration models, skills, processes, and strategies to engage in individualized intervention and transition plan development. 


Standard 4, Assessment Processes, reflects the importance of understanding assessment purposes, choosing appropriate assessment tools and methods, as well as administering, interpreting, sharing, and utilizing assessment results. 


Standard 5, Application of Curriculum Frameworks in the Planning and Facilitation of Meaningful Learning Experience, focuses on understanding and applying curriculum frameworks that address developmental and content domains to create high quality, equitable, and meaningful learning opportunities across natural and inclusive environments.


Standard 6, Using Responsive and Reciprocal Interactions, Interventions, and Instruction, addresses planning and implementation of evidence-based practices, with fidelity and in partnership with families and other professionals. This standard integrates a range of evidence based practices including flexible and embedded instruction, practices to promote social and emotional competence, opportunities for young children to learn play skills and engage in meaningful play, as well as use of data-based decision making in planning, implementing, and adapting intervention and instruction.


Standard 7, Professionalism and Ethical Practice, captures the importance of engaging in professional activities and reflective practices; accessing evidence-based information for professional growth; advocating for improved outcomes for children, families, and the profession; and understanding and adhering to ethical and legal policies and procedures.


Standard 8, EI/ECSE Field and Clinical Experience Standard, focuses on planned field experiences designed to link EI/ECSE research and theory to practice and provide rich, scaffolded, developmental, and graduated experiences with increasing responsibilities for prospective early interventionists and early childhood special educators .


The Council for Exceptional Children & The Division for Early Childhood. (2020). Initial practice-based professional preparation standards for early interventionists/early childhood special educators (EI/ECSE) (initial birth through age 8)