Common Core accused of leaving special-needs students behind | Deseret News National
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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Education

Common Core accused of leaving special-needs students behind

There are 6.5 million special-education students in the U.S. today, and most are falling further behind their peers under Common Core standards.

“The latest government figures show that the dropout rate for students with disabilities is twice that for non-disabled students,” NPR’s Claudio Sanchez reported. “Two-thirds of students with disabilities are performing well below grade level in reading and math. By the eighth grade, that figure rises to 90 percent.”

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan responded to the rising problem of special education failing under Common Core in a press conference, expressing his disregard for schools claiming it’s enough that they are following the standards of Common Core in their special-education classrooms.

"Most states are in compliance with special-education regulations," Duncan said. It's not enough for a state to be compliant if students can't read or do math. We must have a system that will do more than just measure compliance."

In her article “Asking Kids With Special Needs To Clear The Same Bar,” NPR’s Anya Kamenetz wrote that many assume it’s normal or expected that special-needs students be markedly behind other students. She reported when most people think of special-needs students, they think of students with more severe cognitive and physical disabilities than what is typical in special education.

“According to the National Center for Education Statistics,” Kamenetz reported, “13 percent of public school students receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Of those kids, 36 percent have ‘specific learning disabilities.’ Twenty-one percent have ‘speech or language impairments.’ Another 22 percent have autism, intellectual disabilities, a developmental delay, or multiple disabilities.”

Less than 10 percent of those in special-education classes were previously expected to fall behind significantly in reading and math for their grade level, Kamenetz reported. But teachers and parents of special-education students are seeing much more than 10 percent failing, it’s now 90 percent.

"There's always been a gap — academically, socially — between what he could do and other kids could do," Rebecca Ellis told Kamenetz about her autistic son. "When the standards changed, the gap grew into this canyon overnight."

Those with autism and language-processing disabilities are quickly becoming education casualties in numbers before unseen.

“Though most Common Core goals are abstract and schematic, collectively they constitute a one-size fits-all approach that, in practice, has severely straightjacketed America’s special-needs students,” reported Katherine Beals for The Atlantic.

Beals reported that there might be a few factors at play here outside of Common Core pedagogy. First there is the fact that more students than ever are diagnosed with learning disabilities, making the pool larger. Second, under No Child Left Behind, students with special needs were the focus, allowing for them to catch up to their peers, whereas with Common Core they are marginalized in the pursuit of a more equalized education.

“The purported goal of the Common Core is success for all students,” Beals wrote. “But success for all requires openness towards cognitive diversity, and isn’t so easily standardized.”

Beals and Ellis both argued for a reform of the grade-level standards, or the grading based on age group, contending that student success can only be judged on improvement for their cognitive levels, not by class-level criteria.

EMAIL: nshepard@deseretnews.com TWITTER: @NicoleEShepard