How the Common Core Humiliates Special Education Students

The Common Core is stressful enough for regular education students.  But what is the standardized test-taking experience like for special education students?  Special Education teacher Brian Zorn discussed his students reaction to the Common Core in the Wall Street Journal.  Zorn’s class has students that are reading well below grade level, dealing with challenges that other students do not face, yet they are forced to take the same test as other students.

As you can imagine, the results don’t exactly reinforce the academic progress that these students do achieve and should feel proud of.  Instead special education students around the country are forced to struggle with the federally mandated exam.  Let’s take a look at what Zorn had to say in Common Core Is Leaving My Students Behind:

The mission of American education is “No Child Left Behind.” For me as a special-education teacher in New York state, that means making my students feel worthwhile and giving them the confidence they need to succeed—academically and socially. Yet New York’s statewide English language arts (ELA) and mathematics exams unduly humiliate children in special education and frustrate the teachers who want them to succeed.

The tests, administered to third- through eighth-graders over six days each spring, evaluate students on uniform Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by most states and emphasize critical thinking. As this newspaper reported in 2013, the first year the tests were administered, many children in New York state “ran out of time, collapsed in tears or froze up.”

The unhappy result has been more students opting out of the tests altogether. According to the New York State Education Department, in 2014 49,000 and 67,000 students in the state skipped the ELA and math tests, respectively. And those figures are expected to climb this year.

If average and above students are struggling, imagine what it must be like for my students—children with severe dyslexia, ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome and other learning disabilities. These exams undermine my students’ hard-won confidence and tell them they can’t compete. What does the state learn from my students’ exam results? I can only think of one thing. It proves that they are not academically on grade level. But isn’t that the main reason they are in special-education classes in the first place?

Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act, all students who receive special-educational services are entitled to a “free and appropriate” education. That education must be individualized and designed to meet the child’s unique needs. It is not appropriate to provide reading instruction that is three years above a special-education student’s grade level. Nor is it fair to ask a sixth-grade child with a learning disability who is struggling with basic math to take a test that includes evaluating algebraic expressions as well as other complex concepts.

It’s not only “unfair” it’s practically cruel.  Would you ask your eight-year old to read to pen an argumentative thesis on Asian global trade imbalance?  I would hope not!  But why are we asking our special education students to complete a task that seems almost as daunting?

One of my fifth-grade students spent his early school years frustrated and angry that he couldn’t read like everyone else. He felt defeated and disliked school. Yet with great patience and encouragement from his teachers, he can now read more than 200 words by sight and has begun to “crack the code,” applying phonemic awareness to unknown words to sound them out. His self-esteem has increased markedly and he has, for the first time, begun to enjoy reading.

Then came the statewide exams, and six horrific days in my classroom. On the first day, he laid his head down on the desk as tears rolled down his face. He couldn’t understand a single question in the ELA test, let alone entire passages. The test is written on a fifth-grade level; he is reading on a first-grade level.

Exam evaluators certainly won’t see the progress that he has made this year, jumping from reading a handful of words to hundreds. Nor will they see the recent joy on his mother’s face the day I asked him to read for her at our parent-teacher conference.

This problem isn’t just limited to special education students.  A close friend of mine who does not wish to be named (teachers can be penalized for openly criticizing the Common Core in Florida) has a similar problem in his ESOL classes. The Common Core derived Florida Standards Assessment features complex word problems that are difficult for these students who may not read at their grade level.  He must sacrifice classroom time that would be spent teaching math concepts to teach the children how to better navigate complex word problems.  The students still need to learn the mathematical concepts, but the learning process is bogged down as he also needs to incorporate reading into his lessons.  As a result, the students do not gain a depth of understanding of the mathematical principals that they did in the past.

Americans are getting sick of the one-size fits all method that George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Bill Gates and Barack Obama have pushed on us over the past two decades.  Special education students should not be subject to this ridiculousness, but thanks to policies which financially reward districts and states for participation, they are not encouraged to do what is best for them by opting out.  I would be shocked if the amount of special education students who opt-out of the exams does not increase by at least 50% in 2016.

-Gabriel Diaz

For an excellent summary of what is truly wrong with the Common Core, you can check out my good friend Brook Putnam’s e-book “Rotten Core: How the Common Core is Ruining Our Children’s Futures and What We Can Do About it.”  I can’t recommend it enough!  Brook is a Florida school teacher with a vicious sense of humor, and Rotten Core a ridiculously entertaining and informative read.  We are offering it for a limited time on this site exclusively for only 99 cents! Take advantage of this outstanding deal, right here!

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