High Expectations is part buzzword, part reality for many typical students. With new Common Core standards seeking to increase the bar of baseline knowledge, that leaves special education students in a bit of a conundrum. The nature of IEP accommodations (how) isn’t as problematic as modifications (what) to curriculum. With a strong IEP, parents and special educators know that setting to bar to attainable, realistic goals is the focus. Meeting grade level is often a challenge for special education students. These are the same children who miss physical, intellectual and social milestones or reach them significantly later than their peers. So how will Common Core Standards affect these children?
The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities provides an overview of Common Core State Standards and recommends access to general education curriculum and “an IEP that includes annual goals aligned with and chosen to facilitate their attainment of grade-level academic standards” – and really good special educators. Margaret J. McLaughlin suggests in Access to the Common Core for All: Six principles for principals to consider in implementing CCSS for students with disabilities that these teachers be proficient in Universal Design for Learning (UDL):
“According to the National Center on Universal Design for Learning, UDL emphasizes that an effective goal must be flexible enough to allow learners multiple ways to successfully meet it. To do this, the standard must not embed the means (the how) with the goal (the what).”
Yet common core becomes issue when a modification changes content or academic performance. The International Center for Leadership in Education suggests: that the litmus test is if the modifications are “essential elements of the particular standard.” So for a student with math content accommodations, using calculator versus modifications in curriculum (waving algebra, lets say), how will his IEP approach Common Core testing?
"...for schools and districts to focus attention on several areas. They must revise curricula to reflect fewer, clearer, higher world-class standards, assess existing programs to make them rigorous and relevant for all students, and increase the effectiveness of instruction for all. Strategies that assist students receiving special education services and other struggling learners should be identified and seen as part of the solution right from the start.”
In High Expectations: Raising the Bar for Children with Disabilities, Pam Wright notes that Education Secretary Arne Duncan promotes that even students with disabilities must be ready for college or career after high school graduation, and “high expectations must be the norm, not the exception.” Wright adds to that: “Schools need to prepare children with disabilities for further education, employment, and independent living.” After all, our goal as teachers and parents of special needs students is to graduate high school with the same body of knowledge and skills to live an independent life as typicals. Knowing that they are not typical children, many parents still hold on to high expectations, hoping that they have success: productivity, self sufficiency and relationships. For some students, this is not only a high expectation, but it can be unrealistic for some.
On a more positive note, more research is being done and educational strategies are available, such as Creating a Culture of High Expectations for Students in Special Education by Rutgers. SpecialEducationConnection.com suggest high expectations, parental involvement combined with self-advocacy along with weaning off supports. With transition planning included in IEPs (which can begin at age 14 with student engagement), parents and teachers can work toward a child's best-case outcome -- meeting benchmarks -- while increasing advocacy skills and less reliance on supports. It is a noble goal, and one that every student should be allowed the chance.