In the search for a more rigorous education in the United States, a set of Common Core Standards are basically becoming the first set of national standards American schools have ever adopted. Currently the standards have been chosen as the representative standards for 46 states and the District of Columbia — for example, English, Language Arts, and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Curricular materials are being developed to match the demands of the standards, which are much more specific regarding the elements that are to be taught in what grade than many previous sets of standards. What remains to be seen is how widespread the implications will be for special education in regard to these standards.
Changes for special education
Individualized Education Plans are developed for students who qualify to receive services through the special education department of a school district. These plans include present levels of performance, and individual goals, as well as accommodations and modifications. Accommodations are made whenever a student’s disability will pose a roadblock to assessing what they truly know or are able to do. An example might be in the case of a student with processing difficulties who takes tests in an alternate testing environment, one that is much freer of distractions and which allows the student to focus more clearly on the task at hand. Modifications to the curriculum might be made if the student has a severe enough disability to warrant a reduction or change in the requirements for the knowledge or skill set of the course. An example of this might be in the case of an individual with a written language disability being presented with a test in which the matching stems are placed in the left column and the choices placed in the right column to alleviate having to re-read the same lines multiple times during a test.
Many of my students with learning disabilities struggle with reading to the point that they lose the context of a passage and fail to comprehend what they have read. The Individualized Education Plans for these students often include accommodations such as having the passage read aloud by someone else or modifications such as receiving a more simplistic version of the same passage. From what I can tell through my study of the materials on the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in the History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, these accommodations and modifications will no longer be viable additions to a student’s Individual Education Plan.
What will we do for these students in regard to the Common Core?
All parents and teachers would argue that we want our special education students to have the skills necessary for college and career readiness in the same capacity as their non-learning disabled peers. Unfortunately, as we make the transition to the Common Core Standards, parents and teachers are experiencing some anxiety related to these children’s ability to be successful without these traditional ways of supporting them. Research shows that when appropriate scaffolding (supports that a teacher puts into place temporarily to aid in student understanding) and interventions (research based strategies for improving student learning and achievement) are used with special education students, they are able to be as successful as their non-disabled grade level peers.
School systems need to develop their curricular plans for the Common Core Standards with the needs of special education students in mind. Regular education and special education staff will need to be given time to work together to develop accommodations and modifications that will provide the scaffolding and intervention necessary to promote college and career readiness for all students. Parents need to provide support to their children and focus on what they do understand in an effort to see them reach their full potential. Above all, we need to forge ahead to our future, providing our students with 21st century skills while meeting their individual needs.