Question Detail

I received two very nice responses from non special educators, Jennie Beltramini and Crystal Barrick, about how special educators are supposed to employ the text complexity indicator of the CCR anchor standards. Their suggestions directly contradict Timothy Shanahan, who authored the text complexity indicator. They suggested reading to students and using below grade level texts, which according to Shanahan has been part of the problem all along. Students have not had to "struggle with the text". These suggestions are in direct conflict with the standards. I would love to hear from some special educators abnout how we are supposed to apply standards meant for all when individualizing the educational program for students with disabilities. If the needs of students with disabilities could just be met by scaffolding material they would not be eligible for special education.

Sep 5, 2013 12:55pm

Students with disabilities typically under-perform academically when compared to their non-disabled peers. The common core seems to ignore this and instead seems to expect that students with disabilities will perform up to the same standards as their non-disabled peers, as if the disability did not exist. As James Kauffman wrote in his opinion piece, Waving to Ray Charles (2005), "The danger of assuming that we can eliminate the gap between the achievement of students with disabilities and that of those without is twofold. First, this assumption sets expectations for students with disabilities that are totally unreasonable; as a group, the students will be bound to fail. Second, it sets expectations for teachers that are totally unreasonable; no teacher can succeed."
My fear is that there is not enough flexibility built into the standards to allow teachers to address skills taught in previous grade levels or to choose texts that students can be both successful with and challenged by.

  • Pre K-12
  • Common Core / Special Education


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    • Sep 6, 2013 9:13am

      Hi John-

      I am not a special educator, but I have co-taught special education with an amazing special educator for 8 years, and I am now the district reading coordinator/Title I Director/ and ELL Director in my district with a knowledge the intense variability of our students. Also, I am a UDL consulant and have worked with thousands of teachers to design curriculum for their students using the Common Core. That being said, I do believe teachers can design curriculum to allow all students to work toward the standards using complex text.

      Long before the Common Core standards, there were rigorous state standards, and the research tells us that there have always been teachers who "beat the odds" and have students who perform better than expected on standardized tests. These students, whether they are at risk of failing because of ability, poverty, race, or language, are successful because teachers are responsive to standards, are warm demanders and expect students to meet the standards, and scaffold instruction so students can work somewhere in their zone of proximal development.

      This can be done using Universal Design for Learning (UDL). I have worked with countless Life Skills teachers who use the Common Core grade level standards to design curriculum for their students. The standards are flexible enough to allow for this. Close reading can be done with just a paragraph at a time that is high interest, so the length of the text and reading fluency would not be a huge barrier. Using UDL, the text can be enlarged, pictures can be added, and teachers can support students by have multiple readings of the same text using audio, student led reading, and teacher led reading. This can definitely be supplemented with guided reading at students' own levels, using the Common Core skills, but all students should have the opportunity to come back to that complex text. The Paideia seminar is great for this too, because it allows kids to dive into reading and have discussions about it. Even my students with IQs near 50 loved to participate and had some amazing insights with grade-level text.

      It's great that you're advocating for your students. Just remember that the Core can help you to do that. Check out the UDL Exchange for some awesome lessons aligned to the Core that would be great for your students.

      Katie Novak

      • Sep 6, 2013 12:15pm

        Thanks Katie.
        I am quite familiar with the principles and practices of UDL. If I have a 10th grade student with a mild intellectual disability reading at a 3rd grade equivalency how shall I have him reading 10th grade level texts independently by the end of the school year as the CCSS demand?