Aligning common core with common sense
Testing based on Common Core State Standards may well be the most ambitious national reform in the history of performance measurement but there is a growing misconception among educators that it will accurately gage the progress of all students.
It simply cannot, nor should it.
If it has not happened already, the discussion that took place during the last meeting of the California State Board of Education will eventually take place in every state implementing the CCSS, which is to say virtually all over the country.
The issue at hand was alternative assessments for students with severe cognitive impairments in relation to the new curriculum standards.
At one point a spokesperson from the California Department of Education said the pilot test currently underway throughout the state was “aligned to the common core state standards for English language arts and mathematics.” Then she went on to say a little later, before listing a number of probable outcomes, “I don’t know where we’re heading with this,” implying that the eventual assessment tool would be contingent upon evaluation of the piloted instrument, though it was a forgone conclusion that the CCSS would drive the content.
Therein lies the problem. It is as if Common Core morphed into a gigantic locomotive steaming through the country fueled by fiery promises from policy wonks, stopping at every hamlet so every student in the country can get on board with no consideration for the destination. “It’s the Common Core Express and if you want to get to the future you better get on it!”
Except it may not be the right train for every pupil, especially in light of the starting point.
At the outset, Dane Linn, director of the National Governors Association Center’s Education Division, said, “These standards will be research and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, aligned with college and work expectations and include rigorous content and skills."
Most students with pronounced cognitive delays will not be moving on to an academic setting after high school and many will not even be ready for a job without a great deal of community-based instruction.
A perusal of the technicians behind the CCSS reinforces this concern.
The Standards Development Work and Feedback Groups were composed of university professors with subject matter expertise, executives from testing companies, and high ranking mavens from agencies devoted to research – not one of them sporting credentials related to special education, at least none considered sufficiently relevant to note as part of any participant’s title.
The intent of the CCSS with regard to coordination – that every district operates under the same curricular parameters for all students throughout the nation – is a sound one, especially for special education. It would mean that the objectives on Individualized Education Plans could be readily implemented as students with disabilities (SWD) transfer from school to school or even state to state and teachers would have uniform guidelines for developing sequential skill sets.
But the content of common standards, at least for that subset of SWD requiring an alternate assessment, needs to be carefully designed with the characteristics of that group as the foremost consideration. As the essential Educator pointed out four years ago, “The students being referred to are a subpopulation of individuals with developmental disabilities who fall at the extreme left side of the frequency distribution for intelligence and adaptive behavior …”
Constructing an appropriate curriculum would begin with backward mapping of the transitional requirements necessary for independent or semi-independent living coupled to the acceleration of the cognitive functions necessary for that eventual transition.
That type of construction is much different than reworking a pre-determined set of academic priorities which will have little relevance to the situations these students will face participating in their community or the functional challenges necessary for self-reliance.