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Special Education Alert! Proposed Common Core Math Curriculum for SDUHSD

Tuesday, June 10, 2014, from 6 to 7 pm, the San Dieguito Union High School District will host a public review session for the math instructional materials proposed for adoption by the District. The purpose of the meeting is to provide opportunity for the public to review and comment on the proposed materials. The meeting will be held in the lecture hall at Torrey Pines High School. A similar session was held on May 27, 2014 in the SDUHSD Board Room in Encinitas, California.

Persons wishing to review the materials proposed can do so by visiting the below links.

  1. Proposed Middle School Math Instructional Materials: http://utahmiddleschoolmath.org/
  2. Proposed High School Math Instructional Materials: http://www.mathematicsvisionproject.org/

Changes are being made in response to the adoption by the California Board of Education of the "Common Core State Standards" (CCSS) for English language arts and mathematics in 2010. In order to implement these changes, $1,250,000,000 was allocated for the 2013-2014 fiscal year for teacher training and purchase of school materials.

The Common Core standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to provide national educational standards (not curriculum) for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics. The adoption of these standards is voluntary and allows districts within the state retain to their right to select their own curriculum to teach students. Per the backers of the Common Core initiative, “standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit bearing entry courses in two or four year college programs or enter the workforce.” Common Core State Standards Initiative, FAQs (2/20/2014).

Proponents of the Common Core Standards opine that these standards will result in higher expectations for all students, including those with disabilities, by integrating a stronger emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking skills (versus rote memorization). Proponents note that the data on existing graduation rates of students with disabilities demonstrates that current standards are failing the students with disabilities and the increased expectations of the CCSS will improve the graduation outcomes and education generally. Per the position of the California Department of Education, students with disabilities “must be challenged to excel within the general education curriculum and be prepared for success in their post-school lives, including college and/or careers. These common standards provide an historic opportunity to improve access to rigorous academic content standards for students with disabilities.” Application to Students with Disabilities, CDE Website: “Common Core Resources for Special Education” (2/24/14)

Opponents argue that the CCSS standards are actually discriminatory because they require some students to use skills that they neurologically lack and which qualified them for an IEP in the first place. For example, it is not enough any more for a student to simply solve a math equation. Under the CCSS, “all students will be required to demonstrate their understanding of the content and skills … through reading, writing, listening, and speaking…. .” Fewer, Clearer, Higher Common Core State Standards, International Center for Leadership in Education, 2/2011 (available on the CDE website).

Concerns of opponents also argue that for many students with disabilities, reading, writing, listening and speaking are the very skills that are physically problematic for them so requiring these students to demonstrate their understanding of a math equation other than by simply solving it correctly creates unnecessary obstacles to their educational advancement. Principal Tim Farley (Ichabod Crane Middle School, New York), notes that many students with learning disabilities are “concrete, consequential learners,” so for them the CCSS is “disastrous.” (“Opponents say Common Core Unfair for Special Needs Students,” Daily Freeman News, by D. Pineiro-Zucker, 12/14/13). They also note that for students with attention issues or fine motor deficits, requiring them to show extra steps other than actually solving the equation may actually raise more obstacles because deficits in these areas already make the solving of multiple step equations physically difficult; adding drawing or writing to the situation for a child with cerebral palsy, for example, only adds unnecessary requirements obscuring the true goal – which is the correct computation of an equation. Opponents contend that higher expectations are one thing, while actually providing the supports to help students meet the new expectations are another.

Are there supports in place to help students with disabilities meet the increased expectations under the CCSS? Under the current funding schemes for special education, approximately 40% of students with disabilities are not getting their diplomas using the “lower” pre-CCSS standards so significantly increasing the expectations without significantly increasing the funding or systemic supports to better equip students and teachers with additional school hours, technology or interventions to help them meet this task remains a concern of many parents. In SDUHSD, the existing disparity in the support provided to students with disabilities and those without disabilities remains an issue for many parents and there are no indications that changes are planned to increase the support of students with disabilities to help them succeed with the new common core expectations.

For example, students in general education English classes at La Costa Canyon High School can double block their English class with a Read 180 reading intervention class but students in the special education "fundamentals" English (who are further behind in reading then the general education students) cannot double block with the Read 180 class. For students in the English fundamentals class, they have to be pulled out of another class to participate in Read 180 but the general education students do not. In terms of math, general education students can meet the Algebra requirement for graduation by taking a 2-year Algebra A/B class that starts in middle school and finishes in high school, or take the Algebra A/B course in the district's adult education program. Despite requests by parents of students with special needs to offer this program in high school or to offer a "fundamentals" Algebra class in high school that is slower paced but which meets the standards for Algebra, the district has declined to offer a fundamentals Algebra class for special education students (it does offer fundamental classes in English and history but not Algebra even though this class is required to earn a diploma), does not offer a 2 year Algebra A/B class in high school and the district's adult education program does offer any special education Algebra courses. Another example is that no after school tutoring tailored for students with special needs is available, although free tutoring is available for general education students.

The curriculum being reviewed by SDUHSD and open for public comment on June 10 do not include any materials specifically for designed for special education. A preliminary review of the proposed materials reveals that several "best practices" are missing from the presentation that could benefit all students, especially those with special needs. Examples of concerns:

  1. There are no visual models to demonstrate the steps in the required activities which are often needed for students to self-teach or self-correct and to provide assistance to parents whose student may need additional help (current materials do include visual modeling);
  2. The materials are mostly black and white with few engaging colors or images;
  3. All written content uses a "serif" font like times roman font instead of a non-serif font (such as arial) which is commonly used for students with learning disabilities;
  4. Many of the problems fail to provide lines for students to write their answers on which for students with visual issues is a needed accommodation; and
  5. Graphs are all presented in same sized black and white lines (as opposed to gray graph lines and black axis lines) and do not have numbers listed on the graphs which can impair visual tracking and completion of graphing work.

Another question that needs to be addressed is whether the materials being proposed are research based as required under the IDEA. As noted previously, there are no materials proposed which are specifically designed for students with special needs so whether these materials have been used successfully to increase the success of students with special needs should be addressed.

States that have adopted the CCSS standards and related materials early on are beginning to rethink Core implementation (e.g. Florida, Massachusetts and Louisiana) so parents should consider researching what other states have done to help them better understand the impact of CCSS materials on their student's education. The effect of the Common Core standards on the special education population remains to be seen so parents interested in learning more about the materials that will be used with their children should attend the upcoming meeting to have an opportunity to provide their input on the curriculum at the upcoming meeting.

Other articles that may be of interest by this author:

1. High School and Getting a Diploma: Options for Students with Disabilities;
2. Reading: Is your student struggling and behind grade level?
3. Disagreements over Special Education Assessments: Requesting an IEE