Students with Disabilities and the Common Core: New Standards, Old Worries

May 30, 2012

Students with Disabilities and the Common Core: New Standards, Old Worries

As more and more attention is turning to the implementation of the new Common Core Curriculum, the concerns about how students with disabilities (SWD) will fit into these new standards are mounting as well. To add some more weight to these concerns, a new report by the Institution of Education Sciences (IES) has recently been released. With the onus of the Common Core and school accountability only growing, the report looks at similar fears from other laws, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997 and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) of 2001. The report found that despite some problems, students with disabilities, for the most part, did not play as great a role in bringing down school performance as many thought. This is not to say that there was no effect, however, and as we move into a discussion over the proper implementation of new education mandates from the Common Core, paying attention to the IES report may prove helpful. Among the most significant of their findings was the following statistics in response to the study question, “What percentage of schools missed AYP because of the performance of the students with disabilities subgroup?”
  • For the 2008–09 school year, 9% of public schools in 37 states missed AYP because of a combination of the SWD subgroup performance along with other reasons. Further, 5% missed it only because of SWD subgroup performance. Combined, these schools represent more than one quarter (28%) of tested SWDs in all public schools in their states.
  • In the 16 states where relevant data was available for the 4 years analyzed, 40% of SWD-accountable schools missed AYP either partially or solely due to SWD performance in the 2005–06 school year and 35% did so in 2008–09.
In addition to these statistics, the report set forth and important hypothesis: “school-level accountability for the SWD subgroup will lead schools to adopt improved school and instructional practices, which in turn will improve the educational outcomes for this student population” (2012, p. ix). The real determination that needs to be made, therefore, is whether this hypothesis holds true, despite the numbers stated above. Schools who fail to meet AYP are forced to endure a host of penalties and sanctions that has left many districts grasping at straws in order to preserve their integrity and autonomy. Whether or not students with disabilities are the true culprits for lowered test scores is therefore justifiably debatable. The real challenge as we move into the implementation of the Common Core is utilizing studies like this one from IES as a means to look at the true impact of our standards on all students, determining what is acceptable and what is not in terms of AYP or whatever equivalent the Common Core designates. Ultimately, the goal is to improve education for all students regardless of their disabilities or other factors (such as economic backgrounds, a common “other” factor affecting AYP). Are waivers the answer? Should we implement different testing standards for students with disabilities? If so, then what and how do we determine them? Where is the middle ground here, or is there any?



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