Forty one states, to date, have jumped on the Common Core State Standards bandwagon, adopting common curriculum benchmarks for general education courses in language arts and mathematics. The standards, created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, are raising the bar for special education students as well. According to the standards, students with disabilities— defined as students eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA ) "must be challenged to excel within the general curriculum."
"We have to provide all students with an education to be ready to have a career when they leave their K12 experience," says Chris Minnich, senior membership director at the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Special education students will be held to the same both in the classroom and on the assessments. Two consortiums — Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PAR CC) and SMARTER Balanced Assessment — were granted Race to the Top funds to develop assessments for the new standards by 2014. The assessments apply to what's known as two percent special education students, which are special education students without severe cognitive disabilities.
According to Minnich, states are in various stages of adopting the standards, with some states and districts farther along than others. Florida began modifying its special education curriculum nearly six years ago. As of 2011, Florida will no longer approve modified courses, in which special education students aren't expected to master as much material as in general education courses.
"It's about having higher expectations for all of our students," says Bambi Lockman, chief of the Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services with the Florida Department of Education. According to Lockman, since the state began its alignment of standards, special education students have improved 3 to 5 percent annually on both language arts and mathematics.
"The transition to the Common Core will be challenging, but it's not going to be extremely difficult because we've already had high standards in Florida," she says. "I think we are going to see students having access to the general curriculum."
Lockman notes that this change doesn't come without intervention as specified in each student's individualized education plan (IEP). Extra classroom support, variation in the instructional approach, small group discussions and assisted technology are just some examples of intervention that will be needed for the students to excel in a general education classroom.
According to Minnich, states that have adopted the standards will implement them between 2012 and 2014. He expects a few more states to be on board by the end of 2011.