Is the Core too much for disabled students?

Can special education students keep up with the Common Core? On the Hechinger Report, Amanda M. Fairbanks looks at a special-ed class for third- and fourth-graders at a Long Island school. Nicole Papa plays an audio recording of a nonfiction article about bullying and peer pressure. Then, she reads it the first part again and asks students to think the main idea.

Her students have “diagnoses ranging from autism spectrum disorders to learning disabilities to mood disorders.” They don’t read well enough to get through the article themselves.

“A couple of years ago, I would never have tried such a difficult passage with these kids,” said Papa, reflecting on her lesson. “My students are stepping it up and showing some unexpected successes. I see the light bulbs go on and I see a lot of growth in their comprehension, in their vocabulary and in their confidence. They know they’re doing exactly what their peers are doing right across the hallway.”

They’re doing it at a much slower pace. While the mainstream class finished the first of four English segments in October, Papa’s class was still working on it in May.

Common Core’s higher expectations is tackling a “huge underachievement problem,” said Lindsay Jones, the director of public policy and advocacy for the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Nevertheless, Celia Oyler, a professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, is troubled by the uniformity she observes when visiting special education classrooms.

“Every child is being given the same materials at the same time,” said Oyler, who runs the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project and directs the inclusive teacher education programs at the college. “The very essence of meeting the needs of children with disabilities is that learners need to be doing things at different times.”

Most special ed students weren’t meeting the old standards, notes Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

Jackson Ellis, who’s starting fourth grade in Louisiana, is on the autism spectrum.  “There’s always been a gap — academically, socially — between what he could do and other kids could do,” says his mother, Rebecca Ellis. “When the standards changed, the gap grew into this canyon overnight.”

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  1. For some, a kindergarten-entrance level of knowledge an behavior is impossible. A post on this site, or its linked article, includes comments from the teacher of about six 9-10 year-old kids, who (with 4-5 aides) has managed to teach two of them to recognize their spoken names, over the past school year. I also remember the “freshman” spec ed class of 14-15 year-olds with severe cognitive handicaps, where my DD volunteered for a semester. None could manage coprehensible verbal communication, none could feed themselves with implements, none could take care of personal care, dressing etc. – but each had a full-time aide trying to teach them “academics”.There are also the cognitively handicapped kids who, if given life skills training instead of a regular academic curriculum, could manage to acquire skills to become employable by the time they leave school. Two now-adult kids of friends fall into the latter category and the parents of both chose to send their kids to the spec ed HS which focused on employment skills. Many years later, one works as a housekeeper at a hotel chain and the other is in a sheltered workshop but they are both proud to be earning a paycheck (and, in the case of the former, full benefits). Time is too precious to waste by making kids sit in classes they have no hope of understanding.

    • In the example given, the time spent listening/discussing the article is time NOT spent on improving the kids’ reading skills.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I could have sworn I just heard someone say that there weren’t any special-ed kids….

    But let’s say that maybe there are.

    Is it a surprise that they don’t meet standards?

    Isn’t that sort of how we decide who the special ed kids are in the first place?

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    Michael, you have obviously never been interviewed for a public school teaching position. You will be asked, “Do you believe all children can learn?” The correct answer is not, “All children can learn something. But lots of them can’t learn enough to honestly pass a college prep curriculum.” That will pretty much destroy your chance of being hired.

    The correct answer is, “Yes, all students can graduate high school college or career ready, as long as they get the right teaching. I look forward to being one of those teachers.”

    It is a lie. Anyone with “critical thinking” skills knows it is a lie. But saying it convincingly shows that you are a team player.