Where Does Special Education Fit within Common Core Standards?

Close-up of child's hand holding pencil and writing out letters
Close-up of child's hand holding pencil and writing out letters

Since its 2009 launch, the Common Core State Standards Initiative has been the cause of vigorous debate across the country.

Common Core is a set of standards detailing specific achievement markers in math and reading for K-12 students. Opponents of Common Core point to the expense of teaching to, and administering the test, as well as the vagueness of the set benchmarks students are to reach.

Another significant component of the Common Core debate, is concern as to whether the standards are appropriate, or even attainable, for students with special needs. Parents, administrators and teachers alike are asking if it’s fair to apply the same standards of achievement to a special education student as general education students.

The Common Core Debate

In the United States, special education students receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP ensures these students get specific support and services tailored to their unique learning needs. And as a report by CBS News shows, often, that support means there are accommodations provided during test-taking, such as getting extra time, having some questions read and explained out loud, or allowing the student to take the test in a different location.

With Common Core assessment, however, there is no equivalent test designed for students with special needs. And although some states do allow a modified test for students with learning disabilities, some special education teachers argue that the new Common Core standards have made learning more challenging. On the other hand, special education teachers who support the standards initiative believe the accommodations provided through IEPs are enough to help these students succeed within the Common Core criterion.

As is true with K-12 teachers, parents of special education students have differing opinions and views on Common Core standardized testing. The report by CBS News refers to a parent of a student with an IEP who says she (the parent) is pleased her daughter is held to the same high standards of other students, pointing out that if she graduates unprepared, school wouldn’t have served her well. But another parent whose son is on the autism spectrum chose to opt her son out of testing, explaining that the tests caused her son to be stressed and didn’t prove what he is capable of academically.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities states that fortunately, the Common Core standards play to the strengths of special educators, encouraging teachers to be creative and differentiate instruction for students. Special education teachers excel at finding innovative ways to help students with learning disabilities find success with grade-level classroom curriculum. As the debate persists, no one can predict how special educations students will progress within the framework of the Common Core Initiative.

On both sides of the issue are legitimate and convincing arguments. At the heart of the debate, where everyone comes together, thankfully, is the primary goal of student success–during the school years, and beyond into adulthood.

Learn how Spring Arbor University’s online Master’s degree in Special Education can help you reach your full potential by incorporating the methods and strategies that work best for children with special needs.