USDOE Wants Most Special Ed Students to Take Common Core Assessments
Effective September 21, 2015, a number of special education students nationwide will be required to learn the same “college and career ready standards” and to take the same assessments as students in regular education.
In 2007, the US Department of Education (USDOE) modified Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (the latest version of which is No Child Left Behind–NCLB) to allow states to instruct students receiving special education services using modified academic achievement standards and administer special education students alternate assessments based on those modified academic achievement standards.
In August 2013, the USDOE published in the Federal Register its intention to require most students receiving special education services to be taught using the same “college and career ready standards” and associated assessments effective September 2015.
In August thru November 2013, the USDOE opened public comments regarding the shift of most special education students to being held to the same standards and assessments as regular education students. In other words, USDOE wants special educaiton students held to what are effectively the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and CCSS-aligned assessments.
USDOE compiled a number of general comments and USDOE responses; those can be accessed here.
The USDOE maintains that students receiving special education services for the most severe cognitive disabilities are not included in this September 2015 mandate. However, it is also clear that USDOE continues to hold a view of CCSS as automatically “high,” and it believes that CCSS assessments actually deliver useful, timely information to teachers and parents. Here is the USDOE’s opening statement on the matter:
High standards and high expectations for all students and an accountability system that provides teachers, parents, students, and the public with information about students’ academic progress are essential to ensure that students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers in the 21st century.
The now-common CCSS spiel.
The USDOE also demonstrates unquestioning faith in what amounts to CCSS-aligned assessments:
Nearly all States have developed and are administering new high-quality general assessments that are valid and reliable and measure students with disabilities’ knowledge and skills against college- and career-ready standards.
USDOE notes that as part of the NCLB “waivers,” states agreed to transition most special education students to CCSS and its assessments by 2015-16 (with “phase out” of alternative standards and assessments by 2014-15). Still, USDOE notes that the change is “not predicated on that agreement”; USDOE just wants all students to be held to “high expectations”:
States approved for ESEA flexibility [NCLB waivers] did agree to phase out those assessments by school year 2014-2015; however, these final regulations are not predicated on that agreement. Rather, the ESEA flexibility requirement is consistent with the purpose of the regulations to promote high expectations for students with disabilities by encouraging teaching and learning to high academic achievement standards for the grade in which a student is enrolled measured by a State’s general assessments.
In short, USDOE wants as many students as possible to be roped into CCSS, though USDOE continues to use the euphemistic “high standards.” And of course, the real point is to have as many students as is possible completing those CCSS-aligned assessments. But USDOE says this is “for the kids”:
The importance of holding all students, including students with disabilities, to high standards cannot be over-emphasized. Low expectations can lead to students with disabilities receiving less challenging instruction that reflects below grade-level achievement standards, and thereby not learning what they need to succeed at the grade in which they are enrolled.
Although the Department agrees that some students may have a disability that affects their academic functioning, we disagree that students with disabilities, except for those with the most significant cognitive disabilities, should be held to different academic achievement standards than their nondisabled peers.
It is interesting that the USDOE allowed for modified standards and assessments in 2007, the year that NCLB was supposed to be reauthorized and which Congress did not want to touch it because it was obviously tanking– and it is also interesting that USDOE decided to commence to bringing as many special education students under those “college and career ready standards” and associated assessments in 2013, before the two consortia that USDOE funded for CCSS-aligned assessments had even produced an assessment product. No worries, though. CCSS-aligned assessments would be fine for all students– and “all” students in USDOE thinking should include as many students as possible.
In its August-November 2013 comments, some commenters bring up CCSS, but USDOE refuses to own up to its role in luring states into CCSS-and-assessment adoption via the enticement of Race to the Top (RTTT) funding, downplaying the federal RTTT lure as a “voluntary Department initiative” in which foregoing modified standards and assessments was not a condition for RTTT funding.
Well, that is almost true. Below is an excerpt from the RTTT scoring rubric. Note that UDOE advised states that in order to maximize their score for the “supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments” section,
State or LEA activities might, for example, include… engaging in other strategies that translate the standards and information from assessments into classroom practice for all students, including high-need students (as defined in this notice).
The RTTT application form includes a glossary that defines “high-need students” to include those “who have disabilities.” So, USDOE did indeed encourage states to show how those “common standards” would be common to special education students.
Note also that the RTTT application defined “common set of K12 standards” using the same “can add only up to 15 percent” condition that was clearly and obviously part of the CCSS MOU (memorandum of understanding):
Common set of K-12 standards means a set of content standards that define what students must know and be able to do and that are substantially identical across all States in a consortium. A State may supplement the common standards with additional standards, provided that the additional standards do not exceed 15 percent of the State’s total standards for that content area.
So, here we are in 2015, and the USDOE that obviously favors and promotes CCSS and its attendant assessments wants most students receiving special education services to be required to take CCSS-aligned assessments.
USDOE assumes CCSS to be “high”; USDOE assumes CCSS assessments to be good and necessary for virtually all students, and the clincher: In its RTTT, USDOE encouraged states to align all to CCSS, including graduation requirements and college entrance requirements (making CCSS not only indispensable, but a declared success as college entrance is artificially modified to get in line with CCSS). From the RTTT grading rubric:
State or LEA activities might, for example, include: developing a rollout plan for the standards together with all of their supporting components; in cooperation with the State’s institutions of higher education, aligning high school exit criteria and college entrance requirements with the new standards and assessments…
There is no real “college ready” with CCSS. RTTT told states that they should make college entrance “CCSS ready.”
So, in September 2015, USDOE plans to hook Title I money to states’ assuring that most special education students take those CCSS-aligned assessments.
Here is my prediction:
USDOE just added more fuel to the opt-out movement fire.
Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.
She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.