Common Core: Disabled Students Deserve Better

A few years ago, my brother came home from school in tears. An A and B student with an intellectual disability who always did his homework had high expectations of himself and loved school, his expression of anguish particularly concerned me. This was the same kid who got upset when school was canceled because three feet of snow arrived overnight.

6bf5301a2b8c5e35c619a8bb7c5b5a48I pushed a bowl of cereal – his snack of choice – toward him. “What’s wrong?”

“I hate those stupid tests,” was his reply. My heart sank. I already knew what he was talking about, but I pressed on. “What tests? What were they like?”

“I hate them. They were so long. They said it’s Common Core stuff. I didn’t know the answers. I’m going to fail.”

By this point, I was becoming angry—angry that a standardized test could cause my brother, and so many other children, to feel anxious, upset, and inferior.

A National Issue

Throughout the United States, there seems to be no shortage of controversy over the Common Core State Standards. In Arizona, state senators voted in favor of allowing schools to opt out of the guidelines on an individual basis. In New Jersey, the Assembly recently voted to allow parents to opt out their children from the Common Core tests. Meanwhile, in New York State, the opt-out movement has been steady and growing, with over 60,000 parents deciding last year to not allow their children to take the tests.

The Common Core Standards have been the source of debate and disagreement among teachers, politicians, and legislators alike. While the Common Core’s official site maintains that its initiative is built upon “high quality academic standards,” educators and child development experts have asserted that these standards were not well researched and are developmentally inappropriate.

So what’s wrong with Common Core standards?

Why is there so much resistance, even across party lines? To start, let’s take a look at the members of development teams who developed and authored what has become Common Core. Of the 135 people who sat on these panels, not a single one was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional. Stephanie Feeney, chair of the Advocacy Committee of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators, was shocked. “The people who wrote these standards do not appear to have any background in child development or early childhood education,” she wrote.

Common Core also comes with a hefty price tag, which has already fallen back on taxpayers. In Washington state, it is estimated that implementation of the new standards will cost $300 million. There’s also a heavy reliance upon standardized testing, which stems from the earlier No Child Left Behind Act (George W. Bush, anyone?) and Race To The Top (President Obama’s 2009 initiative to ensure that every child is “college and career ready”). These tests are used partially to determine a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. Teachers who are deemed “ineffective” may be at risk of losing their jobs.

Among the media coverage and articles written about Common Core, there is a lack of information about how the standards affect a certain population mainly disabled students. There is very little mention of how these standards will affect students with developmental, intellectual, and other disabilities. As a sibling of someone with a disability, I was concerned from the beginning.

My brother is now nineteen years old and is excelling in a program for young adults with various disabilities. He will never take a Common Core test again. I couldn’t be more thankful that he’s not only successful, but happy. Unfortunately, Common Core’s new standards and frequent testing are still harming disabled students.

What do the creators of Common Core have to say about students with disabilities?

This document, barely over a page, is the only resource I have been able to find which outlines how Common Core is supposed to apply to disabled students. An excerpt from this statement reads as follows:

“These common standards provide a historic opportunity to improve access to rigorous academic content standards for students with disabilities.”

Nowhere is there mention of how increased funding, special education teachers, accommodations, or support systems for students with disabilities and their families/caregivers will be provided to assist in reaching these goals. The creators and proponents of Common Core seem more interested in funneling public money into private hands than they do about disabled youth and the numerous challenges they face.

Mindy Rosier, a long-time special education teacher, expressed her concern over the most “vulnerable students” being forced to participate in high-stakes testing. Despite some of her students having severe disabilities and Individual Education Plans (IEPs), they must sit for the exact same test every other child takes. She stated: “These tests are developmentally inappropriate for our students and they result in much lower test scores. Lower test scores do not mean they have ‘bad’ teachers.”

Laurie Levy, the founding director of Cherry Preschool, offers additional reasons that children with special needs should not take high-stakes standardized tests. Levy points out that there are no appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities; they are given extra time on the tests, but often, this only prolongs frustration. In addition, students who have IEPs are already routinely assessed. There is no need to take away from valuable instructional time by further assessing them. These tests disrupt their daily routine, and ultimately, there is a high probability that a child with a severe disability will fail a test that was designed without them in mind.

These tests do not only reflect unfairly on students and teachers, they demoralize students with disabilities. Students with special needs are unfortunately frequently the target of bullying, and may already have fragile confidence and self-esteem. Some may also struggle with speaking up and self-advocating, and feel pressured to take a test that in no way benefits them. These poorly designed tests leave many students with disabilities frustrated, anxious, and disheartened.

Students with disabilities were never included in this measure; only held to the same standards as their nondisabled peers. We can, should, and need to do better. Children who are already struggling deserve so much more.

Disabled students deserve better. Still not sure what is Common Core.

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