What the Core gets wrong: Special Education

By MjolnirPants [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Last time, I laid out my thoughts on CCSS instructional materials.

This time: Special Education

The basics of the special education guidance for CCSS is ok, at face value. It stressed the additional supports available to students, assistive technology, and flexible teaching methods. This all sounds pretty great, right?

Then I read this: An Individualized Education Program (IEP) which includes annual goals aligned with and chosen to facilitate their attainment of grade-level academic standards. That emphasis is mine.

Even that seems pretty good, right? Now think about a severely disabled child. One who is non-verbal. One who is functioning significantly below their chronological age, and has been moved into the age-appropriate grade but is completing developmentally appropriate work. For a concrete example, think of a child who is learning basic toileting and life skills, colors, counting, and letters in fourth grade. This child is assigned to a fourth grade teacher and classroom, and is therefore a fourth grader.

Now look back at that emphasized section of text again. Grade-level academic standards really stands out now. According to their grade level placement, that child should be working on fourth grade math and reading, right? They should be learning about the history of their state and region, photosynthesis in plants, and how gravity works. And that is what they will be tested on.

You read that correctly.

That student will be drilled on what the state flag looks like, identifying the beginning/middle/end of a developmentally appropriate text, and the most basic math standards possible until he or she can “answer” appropriately on the modified assessment.

Are the guidelines for special education appropriate for MOST students? Oh, absolutely! All of the students in my particular class last year who had IEPs were successful using these standards for assessment.

But what about those who are most severely disabled? Is it appropriate to expect them to “learn” the concepts outlined in the CCSS? No. Not if it is not in their IEP. Not if it is not within their current capacity. Not if it in inauthentic. Not if these skills would not have been taught without the test.

The better way: base their assessments on what they need to learn NOW to be successful, to move forward. A child who is learning the absolute basics might not ever need to know the capital of California, or algebra, or about photosynthesis. But they will need to be able to identify and use money, read at a basic level, sign their name, navigate their community, communicate with those around them, and take care of their personal hygiene needs.

So let’s assess them on that!

Let’s actually allow students who are profoundly disabled to be tested on what they are really learning. The way CCSS has it written now teachers will be coaching children to just respond correctly on the day off the test, or to demonstrate progress for the assessment portfolio. This is not true learning, it is not authentic, and it is not appropriate.

We need to come up with a better way to assess our most vulnerable students on the skills that they need to participate in society at their highest level. Let’s work on that!



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