Common core…Not just for schools

When I think back to the training I had this last Wednesday…Wow…is about all I can say.

The training was very good… But there are going to be some dramatic  changes between how special education (at least in my school and other schools I’ve worked in) is done now and how it will be done when the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is completely initiated. For those of you unaware of what CCSS is… here’s a link.

The biggest change that I can see is accountability. Not only the teachers (and yes, we have to be accountable)…but the students. As it stands right now, the fairly typical accommodations special education teachers put into place for students with learning disabilities are:

1) highlighted text

2) chunked and highlighted tests

3) having directions rephrased/restated at her level (this is a great accommodation and one I think will be able to stay)

And of course there’s a few others that I’m not able to think of right now. But we haven’t been very good at teaching accountability.

The majority of these accommodations will have to change. We won’t be able to teach students to read the question and go back in the book to look for the bold word. We will not be able to teach students to read the first paragraph and the last paragraph and then look at the pictures and captions in between to get the gist of the reading section. We will actually have to *gasp* teach study skills. No more will any student (not just special ed) be taught 100 things shallowly…instead, the focus will be on teaching a few things deeper, richer, and with greater understanding.

Now…don’t get me wrong. I’m all for these changes. Really I am. It has long been a source of irritation to me that some educators (special and regular ed combined) tend to short change students. We give them accommodations to get by in a certain situation – but don’t teach them the skills they need to be successful as adults. We don’t encourage kids to reach for that optimal zone of approximation and support that growth.We don’t always encourage kids to reach their full potential.

Wait…did I just say that? … Yes. I did. Now, don’t get upset. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone (after all, when I do that I have four pointing right back at me!)…but if you are reading this and wondering if I’m talking about you … maybe a bit of soul-searching is needed. In all honesty, I think we’re all guilty of this at some point. As a result, we need to look at what we’re doing and why we are doing it, and try to keep the big picture in mind.

When I see a student for speech-language services…my goal is better communication. Better understanding. Not just for school – but for life. We need to look at what the child will need when he or she is an adult not just what they need for second grade. Will they need clear articulation – yes, without a doubt. Will they need to be able to request basic wants and needs – yes, absolutely. Will they need to be able to label pictures in 8 out of 10 trials…uhm…probably not exactly like that.

The Common Core State Standards will require all educators (general ed, special ed, SLPs, everyone!) to explore not only what they teach – but why they teach it the way they teach it. I, for one, think this is a great thing. As special educators, we will need to be extra cognizant of not only what we’re teaching and why…but how.

With CCSS, students will be held accountable for not only knowing certain things…but applying that knowledge. Teachers will be held accountable for making sure they have taught the life skills needed to be successful. In many ways, it’s sort of the equivalent to the differences between undergrad and grad school. In undergrad it’s all about theory – memorization of facts and information…and it wasn’t until grad school that we learned what to do with that information and how we apply it to diagnose and treat disorders.

Now, before you think I’m haranguing my teachers, please know that it not at all true. I work with a great bunch of teachers…but all of us (and I include myself in this) have room for improvement (after all none of us walk on water). At this point in time, I think CCSS will make us all more accountable. It’s going to be a lot of work…and probably a few tears (okay…a lot of tears!) …but in the long run I think it will make for some very successful students and teachers. I’m rather excited to see that happen. To watch not only the students grow and become successful adults but to see my teachers expand and grow in their ability to teach meaningfully.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on CCSS. What difficulties do you foresee? What benefits do you think will happen? Since all but two states have adopted CCSS (Texas and Hawaii)…you know it’s coming. CCSS webinar

Until then…Adventure on!