Master of Arts in Special Education

Graduate Advisors: All tenured/tenure-track faculty serve as graduate advisors. See Department website for program emphasis and associated faculty:

General Information

Candidates may specialize in an area of emphasis that includes one of the following:

Early Childhood Special Education

This program emphasis is designed to provide special education personnel with the skills to successfully facilitate the development of young children with disabilities (birth to 5 years). Emphasis is placed on providing culturally competent family-centered services through an interdisciplinary approach.

Mild/Moderate Disabilities

This program emphasis includes preparation in educating diverse learners identified with learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders, mild intellectual disabilities, speech and language delays, and neurodevelopmental differences, including autism. Through participation in courses and field experiences, candidates gain knowledge of current theory, research and practices focused on legal issues, psychoeducational evaluation, data-based assessment, curriculum design and instruction, positive behavior supports, social inclusion, and transition to college and vocations. The program emphasis also focuses on interdisciplinary collaboration and co-teaching among general and special educators while building relationships with students and their families in a variety of educational settings.

Moderate/Severe Disabilities

Candidates in this program emphasis must demonstrate their competence in providing quality educational services to students with moderate/severe disabilities including access to standards-based academic curricula and the use of systematic, data-based approaches to instruction and models of curricular adaptation and social belonging. Competencies in supporting students in inclusive settings, interacting effectively with families and in developing educational goals using a transdisciplinary team approach are also essential components of the program emphasis. In addition, a two-semester sequence of supervised practica ensures that candidates are able to apply the knowledge and skills acquired through course content and assignments to the instruction of students with moderate/severe disabilities in urban school settings.

Orientation and Mobility

Courses and field experiences in this program emphasis prepare professionals to teach skills of independent travel to people of all ages (birth through the senior years) who have visual impairments, including those who have multiple disabilities. Curriculum includes independent travel in indoor and outdoor environments; orientation skills; sensory and motor development; concept development; daily living skills; use of specialized technology in travel; and neurovision rehabilitation in the context of orientation and mobility.

Visual Impairments

The program emphasis is on the inclusion and differentiation of instruction for learners who are blind or visually impaired. Strategies include collaboration with school teams and families, information accessibility, and empowerment of individuals with visual impairments. Curriculum covers assessment, braille, technology, and areas related to the expanded core curriculum.

Admission to Program

Admission to the graduate program in special education is a two-step process with the same application deadline and needs to be completed simultaneously:

  1. Apply to San Francisco State University: Complete the on-line CSU Mentor application. Follow all other requirements for admission to the University by accessing
  2. Apply to the Department of Special Education & Communicative Disorders, M.A. in Special Education.

The program application requests background information, transcripts, a statement of purpose, two letters of reference, evidence of successful completion of the Level I Writing English Proficiency requirement, and a résumé. A minimum 3.0 GPA is required for admission to the M.A. in Special Education program. The program application and application deadlines are posted at or call (415) 338–1161 or email

Upon acceptance into the program, students are assigned a faculty advisor within their selected emphasis area. All students need to consult with their advisors before registration.

Special Education (M.A.) — Minimum 33 units

Core Program (9 units)

ISED 797Seminar in Educational Research3
SPED 788Law, Ethics, and Instructional Planning3
SPED 801Development, Diversity, and English Language Learners: Special Education3
or SPED 779 Family Systems and Services for Young Children with Disabilities
Note: SPED 779 is for students in the Early Childhood Special Education emphasis only.

Upper Division/Graduate Courses (12 units)

Courses in Special Education, as required by each program emphasis.

Related Studies (6 units)

Selected upon approval of major faculty advisor in program emphasis.

Culminating Experience (6 units)

Students will be required to complete one of the following options for the approved culminating experience, following advancement to candidacy:

Option 1

Two elective graduate seminars that reflect critical analysis of literature and application of research skills, by advisement and approval of graduate advisor. One elective seminar must be outside of the program emphasis (can include SPED 881: Advanced Research Seminar in Special Education). 6
SPED 896EXMCulminating Experience Examination

Option 2

In consultation with an advisor, select one graduate seminar outside the emphasis area (can include SPED 881: Advanced Research Seminar in Special Education).3
SPED 894Creative Work Project in Special Education3

Option 3

SPED 881Advanced Research Seminar in Special Education3
Select one of the following:3
Field Study: Special Education
Master's Thesis