Saturday, June 16, 2012

Aligning IEPs to the Common Core State Standards for Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities

As the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) role out, schools are frantically training teachers in order to gear up for the anticipated tests. Our department passed out Aligning IEPs to the Common Core State Standards for Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities by Ginevra Courtade and Diane M. Browder. Although I am placed in a private school working with high school students with mild disabilities, I dutifully read the book.

The book is an easy read, full of many examples of how to adapt CCSS to students with significant learning challenges. It does not, however, provide any extended examples beyond elementary school. If I were a general ed teacher whose class sometimes included students with significant disabilities, I think this book might be useful to calm my fears about how I was to approach addressing the needs of students with significantly different needs into my class while focusing on the CCSS. I would then intensely rely on my special ed teacher to perform massive curricular adaptions and suggest ways in which to incorporate the child into my class in a meaningful manner.

I worry that the push to CCSS with students with severe disabilities may result in focusing attention and resources on things that take away from time spent on essential life skills. The authors suggest that a picture board be used for nonverbal students to teach standards. One such example included the images and words: microscope, cell, slide [microscope], radio, computer, button (p. 110). The last three, I presume, were "words" in the child's vocabulary. For a child who uses a response board, teaching the first three seems outside the realm of usefulness. Focusing on the grade level curriculum detracts from time spent on life skills that will make the child's life better. Teaching functional vocabulary and words that increase opportunity for choice seem like a better use of time. This seems especially true as the individuals age and the time remaining for instruction dwindles. After all most fully functioning adults will never use the word microscope in their daily conversation, but will want to identify that they do not like mushrooms. If you only have 50 words/phrases at the 6th grade, choosing new terms to add seems especially important.

The authors do acknowledge the need for addressing self-determination and real life skills among this population. They also see value in including nonacademic but essential skills. The balance of how to address curricular and life skills and when to move from mostly curricular to mostly life skills remains an essential determination by the team of professionals and family members. The state saying focus on CCSS should not take away from the judgment of on site people.

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