Common Core Standards… What? Why? How?

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Common Core Standards… What? Why? How?

The Common Core Standards is a consistent set of curriculum requirements which 47 states to date have adopted. In the past each state has individually decided what knowledge and skills the students within their state should be taught by the time they graduate. This new set of standards will enable the curricular expectations to be the same from state to state and school to school. They are rigorous, follow a logical progression, clear and consistent and globally completive.

The Common Core Standards apply to both general education students and special education students. Numerous informational documents and articles are available addressing the application to special needs students. Instruction for students with special needs must incorporate supports and related services, goals aligned with grade-level academic standards, and high quality, evidence based instruction.

The International Center for Leadership in Education states that five elements are critical:

  • Ownership
  • High expectations
  • Intervention systems
  • Inclusion
  • Professional development

These standards pose many challenges for special educators as many students do not yet have the skills, strategies or cognitive ability to be at grade level. As these standards represent more challenging expectations for most general education students, without substantial modifications and accommodations they may be unattainable for students with special needs. In addition, differentiating instruction for typical students based upon more rigorous standards is tough enough; adapting instruction to meet the needs of special needs students will be even more difficult.

One expert suggests that one must “capture the essence” of the standard and teach that element discreetly. Others feel that all students can attain these goals through good teaching, which in turn links teacher evaluation models like Danielson and Marzano to the Common Core Standards.

Therefore, achieving goals aligned with the grade level, at grade level and many other aspects become difficult to implement and achieve.

If the CCSS applies to all students in school, the standards also apply to students with disabilities. The standards themselves do recognize that implementation requires providing students with disabilities with a range of needed supports. In the document Application to Students with Disabilities, the standards indicate that instruction for students with disabilities must incorporate supports and accommodations, including:

  • supports and related services designed to meet students’ unique needs and enable their access to the general education curriculum;
  • an IEP that includes annual goals aligned with and chosen to facilitate their attainment of grade-level academic standards; and
  • teachers and specialized instructional support staff who are prepared and qualified to delivery high-quality, evidence-based, individualized instruction and support services.

Additional supports would be provided as needed, including:

  • instructional strategies based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL); and
  • assistive technology devices and services that enable access to the standards.

The Application to Students with Disabilities is available online at:

What are others saying? | The guidance available in the application is limited. How will this guidance be translated into action, as the implementation of the CCSS proceeds state by state? Here are several articles you may find enlightening.

Common Core Standards: Implications for students with disabilities.
This 2010 presentation by Martha Thurlow explores how students with disabilities are to be included in the CCSS, including discussions of instruction, accommodations, alternate assessessments, and graduation exams.

CCSS: The promise and the peril for students with disabilities.
More insight from Martha Thurlow, who writes this article for the Summer 2012 edition of The Special Edge.

Six principles for principals to consider in implementing CCSS for students with disabilities.
The September/October 2012 issue of Principal features this succinct analysis by Margaret McLaughlin of the multiple challenges involved for implementing the CCSS with students who have disabilities, including assessments.

Common Core Standards: What special educators need to know.
From the Council for Exceptional Children, this webpage looks at the impact of CCSS on special education, implications for assessment processes and results, and the significant challenges in implementing the common core of standards for students with disabilities.

Implications for students receiving special education services.
This brief reflects upon the opportunity that transitioning to core standards gives schools and administrators to improve their programs for all students, especially those with disabilities. Schools must address five key elements to support the achievement of students receiving special education services: ownership; high expectations; intervention systems; inclusion/collaborative teaching; and organization/professional development. From the International Center for Leadership in Education.


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