Focusing on Common Core: Students with Disabilities

March 16, 2014 Margo Ensz

VariQuest is excited to begin a series of posts and resources pertaining to the Common Core State Standards accompanying our eGuide, "School Environment & the Common Core." 

Because the Common Core Standards raise the bar, students who had fallen behind prior to the implementation of these standards will have an even harder time catching up. It is more important than ever for teachers to reach students of varying abilities, including students with disabilities

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The authors of the Common Core State Standards briefly address special education and students with disabilities in an applications section. This page and a half PDF, along with a similar applications page for English Language Learners, has been removed from and replaced with a brief FAQ section. However, the file still exists here

Differentiated instruction, various professional resources, and learning methods such as universal design for learning (UDL) are emphasized in this application page, and the authors write, "Students with disabilities…must be challenged to excel within the general curriculum and be prepared for success in their post-school lives, including college and/or careers…Therefore, how these high standards are taught and assessed is of the utmost importance in reaching this diverse group of students."

Several education thought leaders have spoken out that this suggestion for differentiated instruction simply is not enough to support students with disabilities in the implementations of the Common Core State Standards. An October 2013 Education Week article begins, “If the old adage is true—that a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens—then putting the common standards into practice carries the specter of a judgment about educational opportunity in the United States.” Within this article, Sonja Brookins Santelises, a VP at Education Trust, is quoted, "There is no silver bullet with which to move a student who's two to three years behind grade level to a standard that is now two to three years above the one they're currently not meeting." 

The Atlantic wrote an extensive investigative and in-depth article titled "The Common Core is Tough on Kids With Special Needs" earlier this year. "Though most Common Core goals are abstract and schematic, collectively they constitute a one-size fits-all approach that, in practice, has severely straightjacketed America’s special-needs students." The article's author does what many editorials on the topic have not done--she takes specific English language arts standards and analyzes the passages they pertain to in a way that frames how specific subsets of students with disabilities would potentially be able to accomplish said standards. The full article can be found here. The article ends with, "The purported goal of the Common Core is success for all students. But success for all requires openness towards cognitive diversity, and isn’t so easily standardized." 

What is the best way to differentiate instruction for students with disabilities? Should the Standards be differentiated for learners of all abilities? We anticipate this valuable conversation will be a lasting one. 

Was this article useful, valuable, or interesting to you? You may be interested in our eguide on School Environment and the Common Core which has an entire section dedicated to differentiated instruction for learners of all abilities.

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