Question Detail

Since academic underachievement is one of the primary criteria that determines a student's eligibility for special education, how are special educators supposed to employ the text complexity indicator of the CCR anchor standard in language arts, which mandates that students read grade level texts independently?

Sep 3, 2013 9:53am

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 build 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 3, 2013 8:19pm

      Actually, reading complex text, for all students, will require intentional scaffolding by the teacher. This might including reading text to students, reading chorally, marking text to help with comprehension, multiple independent readings, etc. The process of close reading include scaffolding.

      • Sep 3, 2013 9:18pm

        Hi John, you might also find the resources and research on this page helpful as well:

        • Sep 4, 2013 9:19am

          Hi Jennie,
          That's an interesting answer, considering that Tim Shanahan, one of the authors of the text complexity standard, indicated that one of the problems was that we as teachers had been reading to students and not letting them struggle with the text. If you read the standard it says students will independently read grade level texts. This isn't covered by reading to them or having them read in chorus with other students. The expectation of the CCSS is that all students will independently read at grade level in order to be prepared for college. This expectation is not realistic for many students with disabilities.

          • Sep 4, 2013 9:20am

            Thanks for the resources Crystal. I will share them with colleagues.

            • Sep 4, 2013 9:25am

              Interesting that one of the resources suggests using below grade level texts to support struggling readers. This seems to be in direct conflict with what the CCSS mandates.

              • Sep 5, 2013 10:21am

                When search the term special education at Crystal's and Jenny's organization,, no results are returned. Any other "experts" with more special education knowledge/experience out there?

                • Sep 6, 2013 7:21am


                  I just responded to your other post, which was similar, but I thought I'd just add here as well.

                  As for scaffolding, the model requires releasing responsibility to students. At the beginning of the model the teacher is modeling reading strategies, thinking aloud, and reading to students. This then transitions to working collaboratively with students to decode and comprehend the text. After practice at this stage, students can work together, with the help of the teacher to try to read the text, using the strategies outlined by the teacher. Only after students have the reading strategies and skills, can they begin to read independently. I don't know of any researchers who would argue students struggle with text without the necessary tools in place.

                  I'm sure as a teacher, you model this skills and strategies with your students throughout the year, so you're already doing the scaffolding on the instructional end. Even when students are working independently, you can provide choice to increase their engagement. High interest materials that are presented digitally can be adapted to meet student needs. Again, Universal Design for Learning, is an amazing framework for this. There are dozens of former special educators who work for CAST,, and they have an awesome framework of guidelines that you can use when working with the Common Core standards.

                  Hope this helps,
                  Katie Novak

                  • Sep 6, 2013 10:36am

                    I appreciate the posts Katie. I have used and agree with the strategies advocated. The problem I am having is the intention of those who wrote the standards was to remove those types of modifications (reading to students and giving them lower leveled texts). If teachers are working with older students with more significant disabilities there is no possible way to scaffold materials 5-10 grade levels above their independent reading level.
                    If every lesson is based on the standards it is not possible to drop down to curricular content covered in previous grade levels. Content must be covered by the student's current grade level standards. This is problematic, especially with standards that are so specific.
                    For example, one of my student teachers last semester, working with 8th grade students, struggled to find a standard which applied to her lessons on plotting points on a Cartesian plane. This content was covered by the 7th grade standards, but not the 8th grade standards. What should she have done? Applied the 7th grade standards or skipped to the 8th grade content, even though the students had not yet had the opportunity to plot points on a graph?
                    I'll give you another example: A former colleague, working with students with mild-moderate intellectual disabilities in 9th grade, was teaching sight-word vocabulary. Sight words are not covered by any secondary reading standards. What should she do?
                    I am all for holding our students to high expectations. It seems like the standards are asking us to ignore the fact that the reason our students have been identified for special education is because of academic underachievement.
                    If the underachievement could be mitigated with scaffolding and UDL approaches, the students would not have qualified for special education in the first place.
                    The lack of guidance on how to apply the CCSS to students in special education, beyond the 1 1/2 page summary (basically saying do whatever you need to do, as long as it doesn't change the standards) has led to different people offering advice, which contradicts the stated intentions of those who created the standards.
                    We need a coherent message on how to apply grade level standards to students with disabilities when those students are not able to perform the specific requirements indicated by those grade level standards.