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High Expectations Set For Special Education Under National Academic Standards


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A final set of national academic standards released Wednesday by groups representing the nation’s governors and state schools chiefs calls for students with disabilities to be “challenged to excel within the general curriculum.”

Known as the Common Core State Standards, members of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers collaborated to establish national guidelines for English and math instruction in kindergarten through twelfth grade.

The final version unveiled this week reflects tweaks made in response to almost 10,000 public comments submitted after a draft plan was released in March.

Each state will decide whether or not to adopt the recommendations, which are designed to establish high expectations that are uniform across the country and ensure students leave high school ready for college and careers.

The standards outline specific skills students should master in English and math at each grade level. For example, under the guidelines first graders should understand when to capitalize words and how to punctuate a sentence. Sixth graders should understand mathematical terms like sum, quotient and coefficient.

Special education students should be held to the same academic standards outlined for all students in each grade level, according to a supplemental document released alongside the plan. What’s more, instruction for those with even the most severe cognitive disabilities should “retain the rigor and high expectations of the Common Core State Standards.”

Accordingly, students with disabilities will likely need supports and accommodations as called for in their individualized education plans, or IEPs, the standards indicate.

The Department of Education is offering incentives for states that adopt the new standards, but it remains unclear how many states will choose to do so.

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Comments (13 Responses)

  1. dsaaybe says:

    This makes me want to weep. As a professional in a state that already has these standards, I have had to sit and watch students with significant disabilities struggle through standardized tests that the state decided were necessary to be sure the required “core” skills were being adequately absorbed by the students. A VERY small percentage of students are permitted to be exempt from taking these assessments, but there are multiple others for whom this process is torturous. After being taught in incremental steps with much academic and emotional support, these adolescents are battered down for three days twice a year (for now) and it is horrific to watch. I date from the years when students were warehoused and want no parts of any system that doesn’t challenge students to reach their potential as individual human beings. But the operative word here is “individual”. The hard facts are that for some, if not a significant number of “our” students, all the supports and accommodations in the world will not help them achieve parity on an academic level. The greater tragedy, however, is that while they are subjected to these supports and modifications in a curriculum that may or may not have any benefit to their lives, they are robbed of time so desperately needed in order to teach, reteach and reinforce skills that would assist them in living more productive, practical lives. Be careful, governors, and be careful, disability community. Sounds grand, and the CONCEPT has merit that should be explored – but carefully, carefully, carefully, with an eye to the person’s growth in ALL areas, not just factual, academic ones.

  2. heckma1 says:

    I am very concerned about a set of “generic” academic expectations for all students with disabilities. I have worked with L.D. C.D. and students on the autistism spectrum. No two of my students have ever been alike in abilities, disabilities or personalities. Some of the students have been able, with support, to learn all the “core” skills in grade level academic subjects. However, depending on the severity of the disbility, not all students can learn and retain the same amount of information or do the same kind and/or amount of work. How are students with such a variety of abilities supposed to take a test designed for “general education” students who DO NOT have a disability? I understand the need to assess performance but let’s be serious. Differing abilities require different assessment measures. How valid is giving a nonreading, 5th grader, who’s second language is English, a 5th grade reading test and tell him you can’t help him read it? ! There has to be a way to assess improvement at any grade/skill level that is actually able to measure students who are not on grade level but are making significant progress. “Generic” assessments are definitely not the way.

  3. DParsons says:

    I wonder if our politicians are losing their minds! How can students with severe cognitive disabilities be held to the same standards as their non-disabled peers? What world are these governors living in? If they are talking about requiring these students to meet certain standards in order to receive a diploma, I can see the point. However, it is not realistic to expect students with severe disabilities to function at this level. It’s like expecting a person who is missing a leg to run a race as fast as one with both legs. Let’s get real!

  4. debn says:

    I just finished an endorsement for students with severe disabilities and all of this seems to contradict research and what I have observed in the classroom. If a student is on the concrete, biobehavioral level with no evidence of receptive or expressive communication learning is still possible. These students often times learn at a slower pace and may not retain as well as a gen ed student. These students may not enjoy a peaceful sleep because of pain. These students may not get adequate nutrition because they are on g-tubes. These students may not get adaquate oxygen. These students may have an inordinate amount of time dedicated to custodial care (diapers think about an eighteen year old female in diapers) and therapies to an adequate quality of life. These students may be on seizure medication or other meds that impact their availability for learning. Research often times researches isolated possibilities and not conditions that a real teacher faces.

    I am now going to be evaluated on student achievement growth and be evaluated as an effective teacher as in the next step beyond being highly qualified? This is not Star Trek where the commander asks the crew to make it so. I wish I could make my students, the lowest one percent of the student population do better. I am educated, use technology, and am motivated. Heck I just had local inventors make a communication device for a student of mine. They spent their own money and time to make something that is unique. So far it has a value of 50K. It still doesn’t make me a better teacher or my student’s growth adequate by the federal standards.

    In the past when there were mandates to do something that had not been researched or evidence for like sending men to the moon there was some scientific basis teacher dealt with it and did their best. Think about the moving to functional skills and then inclusion even on a social level or an experience level.

    Teachers with the lowest one percent have a lot on their plate. I may be liable if I do not prevent a student from sucking their thumb because it may fall off and have to dedicate behavioral interventions to help the student. There may or may not be follow up at home. Oh too, there may be IEP skills and objectives that I am responsible for in addition to the regular curriculum.

    High expectation are commendable. It is amazing when students do respond. It took me four and an half years to have a student reach out and voluntarily strum my guitar upon visual prompt. This was the last student in her class to acquire the skill. Was I a failure because it took her so long? Was she a failure because it took more than a year?

    Where is all this going? I thank our governor for acknowledging that students with severe disabilities and their teachers do not fit well into the current ideas about assessment and teacher compensation. Check out the research Vanderbilt has done for the feds on teacher pay for performance. Also read up on what behavioral economists say about pay and performance. If law makers want education to move towards a business model they should bone up some. Opps, maybe that’s not the goal.

    With the push for charter schools in light of their performance record as measured by student achievement, maybe it’s more about how charter school can deliver education cheaply. Humm, no wonder, they don’t have to follow the rules that regular public schools have to follow by state and federal law. NCLB has failing schools disband, turn into charters, or become state run schools if they fail? It looks like a statistical and financial shell game to me.

    With everything that has just taken place with the financial institutions in this country I hope someone is listening and in charge. I hope educators are not so busy helping their students and trying to have a life that they are not paying attention. I have tried writing law makers and movers and shakers. If there is a response, it is a form letter telling me that they are too busy to pay attention. So what is it? Who or what has their attention?

  5. dlouise says:

    I have to wonder if any of the people who came up with the standards and the supplemental document have ever taught children with severe disabilities. I believe in teaching as much as possible to the students but this is ludicrous. If they could reach these standards, we wouldn’t need functional curricula or community-based instruction. What will the IEPs look like? Perhaps the objective is to discontinue Special Education and the special ed laws and go back to the way these students were treated 50 years ago. I prepare teachers for special education – is it a waste of time?

  6. Terri Buria says:

    We do not expect every human being to have the same abilities. No one in our society expects athletic, musical, artistic or mechanical abilities to be the same in all its citizens. Yet, we expect academic abilities in children to be so malleable that all you need to do to level the playing field is use a few accommodations and supports. This mentality assumes that any child, regardless of cognitive limitations, can be college ready when they complete high school if they receive the necessary instruction. Realistically, teachers can help develop students’ natural abilities but there is currently no ‘magical instructional skill’ that can increases ones cognitive levels above the potential present at birth. If this pipe dream could be accomplished, the private sector would already be making billions of dollars selling this service. Unfortunately, there already exist many thriving education based businesses (which seldom accept significantly disabled students) that promise results they seldom deliver. Education needs to focus on developing the individual abilities of our students instead of wasting efforts developing one-size-fits-all plans

  7. ghost says:

    I guess I am in the minority here, but I think this is a good idea. Setting a standard is just a first step to making schools and researchers delve deeper into figuring out ‘what works’ for each LD student. And the language (in the draft at least) seems to acknowledge learning differences/outcomes for each student. Too many LD students are getting neither the support they need nor the grades they deserve because teachers lack the financial support needed to explore further research, materials, and teacher-education development. A standard will hold a school accountable and press the student to achieve the equal footing of which s/he is capable. Remember, our LD students are smart, smart, smart! If they are not achieving, we are all doing something wrong. Just because there is a standard doesn’t mean they have to meet it in all areas….even neurologically normal students are not good at everything. A standard is just that: an outline for all. See the language of the report:

    “Special education students should be held to grade level standards in order to succeed beyond high school graduation, an introduction to the draft indicates. While students with disabilities will likely require appropriate supports and accommodation, standards should only be compromised in cases where students have “significant cognitive disabilities” and after such students are offered numerous ways to learn and express their knowledge.”

    So, there is an ‘opt out’ clause when all else fails. Sounds good to me.

    That said, I too HATE the overuse of the standardize test. One in the Fall and one in the Spring is all that is needed. My two cents, for what its worth.

  8. jirrgang says:

    OK People,
    Groups representing the nation’s governors and state schools chiefs, (personally never met any of you)

    YOU ARE INVITED: To any Special Education classroom that serves students with Significant Disabilities.

    Where?- Any town, city, burg and ville in the country.

    When? Between August and ….well all year round , these days.

    What?- To be an assistant in any of these classrooms for one week. Not one hour, but a full time Teaching Assistant, doing what they do all day for 5 days.

    WHY?? So then you may know what you are talking about and for whom you are writing laws.

    BYOS- Bring Your Own Supplies, because the district, system, school, can’t afford much.Teachers and TA’s supplement out of their own pockets.

    BYOL- Bring your own lunch because you can’t afford to eat out or even in the cafeteria and it’s unhealthy anyway.

    Bring any glasses and hearing devices you might need because you need to open your eyes and listen to the people who teach students with special needs every day.

    It Promises to be a fun time !!!!! See you then !! All Sp.Ed. Teachers, Assistants and care

    RSVP- JoAnn Irrgang Durham, NC
    Sp. Ed. Teacher 23 years

  9. jirrgang says:

    Dear Ghost,
    I love that you think a significant disability means LD, but Sweetheart… know those kids in wheel chairs or talk loud, or look a bit different, that are downstairs, by the bathroom, that you rarely see out and about? Those are kids with significant disabilities. These students are some of the greatest people you will ever meet but it is not something most general education folks do. Right now my class is working on spelling number words, studying plant growth and basic math skills. We will work on safety signs, like stop, do not enter, DANGER, EXIT and, well you get the idea. I have high standards for each student. I expect them to perform to the best of their ability and they do not all get As. I also expect manners, honesty, cleanliness, responsibility and all that too…….but they will not meet any high level state standard, no matter how many times you click your ruby slippers together. Sorry…..we know what they can do and need to learn….Ask us.

  10. nansal says:

    Ditto to most every comment made below. This requirement is likened to asking a diabetic to control their sugar, a blind person to just read the book, a person in a wheelchair to just get up and walk. It is an outrage!
    I am a retired Special Education Teacher. I retired after at least two years of watching my students become pawns in a political struggle for “accountability”. Children with severe cognitive disabilities are “tortured” on a regular basis by a system created to protect them. As an educator of children with disabilities, I couldn’t stand by and watch this travesty continue. I decided to retire and become an Advocate. As an advocate, I could help disabled children receive the education they are entitled to one child at a time.

  11. kasia says:

    I, too felt some what the same in regarding the “ethical” responsibilities to what the truest sense of standards and challenging means; however, this is just another example of what you learn in the student’s desk during lessons for best practices in teaching: those are not necessarily what are upheld in the real world. Unfortunately, the real world leans more towards dollars and cents. Example: if more supports are needed for students, then that immediately equates to $ because supports may include a teacher, or may include another program set up to enable these supports to be disseminated appropriately and to other students who may need the same. In my district, I don’t even have the support in a 15:1 classroom anymore because “theoretically” my students are higher functioning – viola, the larger class, and therefore I am perfectly capable of administering curriculum to all of them and each individually. Hello!! the nature of special education is in the word “special” and comes with a defined set of individual strengths and areas of need. The only thing that sets my class as special is the fact that it’s designated as a self contained classroom. Everything from teaching all subjects to 15 plus students who actually range from MR, LD, ED, OHI, Autistic Sprectrum and ADHD are expected to be the same. Currently, there are more supports in the gen ed classroom if it’s an inclusion classroom. I’ve done the math…2 full time certified teachers for 25 students. Even if you split the class in half, each teacher is reaching less of a student population than I am AND the opportunities with having 2 teachers in any classroom are remarkable!! And when the district and state get into micro-managing with when and how many groups a teacher should have during certain instructional times, I have absolutely no support in monitoring this. By now, anyone involved with special education knows that one disability which is most often left off of the IEP is the behavior one! And most behaviors are learned, and most behaviors begin at home!

    So, theoretically, every single student needs to be challenged in order to improve – Vygotsky stated this brilliantly and his supporters in research studies proved it is possible. The key word is “supports” which ALWAYS translates into money. Even if our district, or any district for that matter, gets money for supports, – you’re right, the loop holes are all over the place. How supports are allocated at the local levels is left up to superintendents. If you have a good one, you’re one of the lucky ones; if not, you are left as a teacher to assume responsibilities for the academic outcomes of students without any viable supports. And, the burden of proof comes in the form of filling out data sheets after data sheets which go into a bin somewhere I am convinced, that states “I’ll get to it when I have the time”! And, this wouldn’t lead to some bitterness when these same people vote their incomes a pay raise any chance they get? And yet, stipends have decreased for teachers for out of pocket expenses to help students who’d be in another grade if they had to wait for the paperwork to pass! Meanwhile, state representatives, local superintendents, businessmen, retired teachers from a different time and the policy makers assess everyone across a “generic” standard. If you fail, you’re out, demoralized, and found guilty of being the entity in the “it takes a village to grow a child” that caused your students to fail!

    So…after my experiences in the real world of education, I have found that just like any other business, it’s basically run on politics and money. So…do I trust anything that comes from people who’s reality is so far from the truth about what is important for our students? I most certainly do not. When teachers come together, they generally come together with insightful and highly qualified strategies for teaching all spectrums of educational development; however, our ideas have to match those coming from people operating within a different set of goals. There’s a conflict. The burden of proof is always on us, who have such little time as we run around trying to “make another’s idea work”, while experiencing the failures through our kids. I doubt very much that those who sit on the policy making boards, who have opted to leave the classroom and those who have never experienced a classroom go home at night and cry because a student is failing and there isn’t anything this teacher can do about it!!

    You can throw all kinds of buzz words out there and say it’ll work if…… Well, those are not sound scientific methods of “ordering” a list of check-offs that prove the educational worth of any individual. I feel badly for the people who supported NCLB because I have this strong feeling that their intentions were grounded in good theory; however, just like anything else that happens in this country, the money aspect of it will always outweigh the intrinsic value of the theory – like ethics!! I can still remember my foundations course and I think all the past scholars and philosophers for quality education are doing a massive turn over in their graves with what’s been going on!

    I’m glad teachers are speaking out about the total inequity of a reoccurring double standard. I like the analogy of the one legged person in a race who’s expected to run just as fast. According to policy makers, would the supports be in a motorized wheel chair? Would that level the playing field? How would the other racers support this? Someone would surely come up with an idea that in order for them to run the race fairly, they may need a skate board, or maybe roller skates. What in the world are we doing, if not returning to what is needed for one may not be needed for another, or something else may be needed to do what? Win what? The only way education can be a win/win experience (and as it should be) would definitely be to uphold the ethics in life long learning, which means revamping what outcomes people expect. And, unfortunately that comes into money. I’m sure that the incentive for money allocated to those districts as in the form of rewards for “making the grade” was invented by a supporter of token economy. Now, anyone who uses a form of token economy knows that it can get out of control if it is not monitored and modified as the learning process proceeds so transition is made toward the intrinsic values of learning, and if it gets to the point where the reaction is thought of as punishment for those who can’t make the grade, then the whole thing is a failure. Those who rely on the tokens, want more as time goes on. Those who can’t make earning enough tokens, give up.

    Very similar events are happening with the move toward raising the bar for educational standards. Yes, somewhere along the line, stagnant times of reflective changes moved into an era where communities were moving very quickly within technological developments and changes in industry. We experienced a set-back and definitely needed a re surge of sound curriculum to balance this adjustment. We’ve experienced this before during periods of times in history. The disparity for those who could read past a 6th grade level in a world which required higher levels of thinking was tremendous. Yes, something needed to be done. It just so happens that the something that needed to be done came from parents, teachers, and those intricately involved with developing children. It didn’t come from the comfortable places of policy makers. Soon after, publishing companies got involved and all of a sudden our catalogs are inundated with all kinds of programs that will “teach the standards”. So, in order for teachers to teach to the standards, a special program must be in place?! And, just like anywhere else, there are lobbyists for their own programs. They have their own research, their fields of study and of course they each promote a great success rate. Who gets to vote these in? Who gets to preview these programs? And why is it promoted that either one of these fool proof programs will in fact address all elements in learning? Again, allocation of money. spent on a program could have gone toward a significant pocket of our student population who may need something else.

    I cannot see any changes for the good of educational development occurring if the incentives are money. Even when guiding our students into higher education and careers, I think we have to be careful because industry has changed dramatically, qualifications and training have changed, and availability of jobs have changed sometimes requiring movement into different environments. Higher education costs require higher salaries, which is another whole area of disparity for discussion. I would just like to see more respect and recognition given to the profession of teaching which is not based on money in punitive forms. I think it’s extremely disrespectful when teaching has become the job of passing out information in order to get a high score in order to keep one’s job; in order to prove one’s worth. What good is differentiation if we can’t even use it, even if we believe it is possible to progress toward success? This whole NCLB has gotten so far out of control, it’s a pure shame. I feel responsible because I am forced to be a part of it, and yet feel demoralized because I can’t stop it without losing my own livelihood and means of income to support myself and my family. Does this make for good teaching? Well, I do the best I can and speak up whenever I can, but it is so frustrating and with that I share something with my own students! So, in the realm of a teaching day, I will instruct, guide, monitor, assist, counsel, rephrase, reteach, revise, test and retest, and in all areas of growth and learning which include academics, socialization, problem solving, conflict mediation, home and school communication and individualized goals based upon scientific methods of moving from strengths toward challenging new learning. My students sit through standardized testing and I get reamed because they are not making the grade. I remind superiors of students’ rights and the silence tells me that this falls on deaf ears. The topic changes and I am given “constructive criticisms” on how to utilize the optimum of the reading program I am told will do wonders. I respond with the fact that I have 3 reading programs operating in my classroom in order to make it possible and given a look like they better work or else! So much for support, so much for a professional rapport! And when I go home, I have follow up work for preparations, re-teaching, provisions for immediate feedback and wonder how in the world do teachers do this who have families at home, dinners to cook, a house to clean and some breathing time? I work 10 hours daily most days and on the weekends. And when I come home during the week exhausted, with another brief to prepare to prove how my student is in the wrong class structure because they need more supports as stated on their IEP and cannot get it in my class, or how to prove enough regression so that they can attend full time summer school, I wonder if I’m really doing any good. Half of my time I feel is spent on motivating my students to do something they will fail at all in the name of higher standards. The other half is soothing their broken spirits and calming frustrations that vent out in behavior situations. Talk about the self fulfilling prophecy!! Yes, I still remember my assessment courses, my psychology courses, my ethics courses – only the real world does not want to hear these. My dilemma is, how do I tell my students this reality without adding to their feelings of failure? So many others have created this mess, but they have no responses to this question. They have lost my respect as viable promoters of education and certainly have lost my trust in upholding any kind of quality ethics. It’s really up to us again, if changes are to be made. Right now, it’s probably within our own classrooms, but I am hoping that this spreads into a team effort. We have a voice, we just need to keep using it!

  12. stellaporto says:

    The government needs to focus on backward design. Where are our student’s transitioning to when they graduate. Special Education students are graduating with IEP diplomas at record rates. How many of them are getting real jobs? With all this focus on standardized testing for all students the real message is not getting out. We need to train them to be more independent and to become compete in today’s job market. Our autistic population is growing everyday. Students are competing for day job centers and vocational placement. Many students are winding up at home at 21 years of age and are on government funding. The answer is in transitional training to help make students more independent and have a better quality of life.

  13. says:

    Standards are a wonderful concept. Yes it would be wonderful to have all children meeting these acedemic goals. However, my son and I have had to face a harsh reality concerning the educational system. All these rules and regulations are mirrors and smoke. My son has qualified for special education services since kindergarten. He qualifies under specific learning disorders and speech – language processing. He is reading at a 2.8 grade level at the end of eight grade. He will be entering the ninth grade in the fall. His IEP is a joke. He has not recieved appropriate services. The majority of his teachers have refused to follow it or even make the simplest accomodations or modifications stating that in a small rural school in Nebraska there are not enough resources, scheduling conflicts, or the teacher is just too busy. I have tried to work with the schools, contacted state agencies, etc all to no avail. I’ve tried to find a lawyer who would help us. Too bad there too – they are all helping the schools getting the bureaucratic red tape so thick that kids like my son are lost, passed over, and forgotten. My father was a principal and teacher. I have a degree in Education and I’m sad to say I’ve conpletely lost faith in the American educational system. Keep your standards and give me the money spent on them to send my child to a private school.

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