Nov 08 2013

Is the Common Core Unfair to Special Needs Students?

Critics say a lack of assistive technologies puts certain students at a disadvantage.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative has weathered its fair share of criticism on its way to adoption in 45 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories.

Critics have argued that the initiative, which aims to raise student achievement through a national set of academic standards, has been poorly implemented, unfairly labels teachers as ineffective in the event of poor standardized test scores, and forces students to think too narrowly about the lessons and problems they set out to solve, among other potential deficiencies.

Supporters, including the U.S. Department of Education and the National Governors Association, have attempted to allay concerns by emphasizing that the standards, which several states began adopting as far back as 2010, are an attempt to raise the bar on K-12 education, not lower it.

Now, as states prepare to assess students on standards via a series of online tests — the first assessments are scheduled to kick off during the 2014–2015 school year — yet another question has emerged: Do the Common Core asessments used to assess students' knowledge of the standards create an uneven playing field for students with special needs?

From its inception, Common Core administrators have been adamant about creating an online testing environment that is accessible and provides fair and equal treatment of all students. 

Writing for Education Week, Christina A. Samuels details the quest for “universal design,” (registration required) highlighting the inclusion of such features as large print, closed captioning and special text-to-speech readers.

Such steps appear to at least move the needle in the right direction. But, as disability advocates point out, asking students to choose from a list of pre-approved assistive technologies is vastly different from allowing them to use the tools and resources they’ve become accustomed to using every day in the classroom.

Samuels reports that the consortia responsible for creating the assessments — specifically, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, both of which receive federal funding for their role — are still working on a process to approve outside assistive technologies.

Late Start

David Dikter, CEO of the Assistive Technology Industry Association, tells the paper that process should have started sooner.

“Both of the [consortia] thought they can get around this by saying, ‘We built in similar technology into the assessment itself,’ ” Dikter tells EdWeek. “It’s saying one size fits all, and that is not true and it has never been true.”

Magda Chia, director of support for underrepresented students for Smarter Balanced, responded in the same article that educators and others who work on the Common Core initiative understand where Dikter is coming from, though getting there hasn’t been easy.

“Same does not mean equal,” Chia tells EdWeek. “There has been a little bit of a paradigm shift to understand that having the same function embedded in a test does not mean the same test experience for every kid who needs speech-to-text, for example.”

Chia goes on to say that the consortia has to be very careful and diligent about the technology it approves for use during the assessments, so as not to create security risks or unfair advantages for certain students.

Still, with Common Core assessments already being piloted in several states, and the rollout for widespread testing just around the corner, it’s understandable that some say these considerations should have been made sooner.

What’s your stance on the Common Core? Has your school discussed how the assessments could impact students with special needs? 


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