Testing for Special Education Students Part 2: Aligning to Common Core State Standards

ABC learningby Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

Last time, I talked about testing accommodations for special needs students and new technologies that can assist at test time. Once IEP accommodations are devised, teachers are wondering how to align lessons and classroom tests to CCSS (Common Core State Standards)? Now that most states have adopted common standards, and we’ve gotten over the shock of needing to line up and adopt them at the micro level, how do we do that? Check out the CCSSI site itself for a look at alignment for students with disabilities.

Despite initial emotional resistance to moving to the new standards, I’ve been able to see that CCSS can actually be a useful tool as we create new lessons for special needs kids. Blended learning environments are available if we plan for them, and they offer additional technology assists for our lesson planning processes. One obstacle seems to be the availability of teacher training to bring technology to life.

This acceptance did not happen overnight, but I didn’t need a twelve-step program to come to acceptance level after all. We all want high standards for all children, they need something to aim for, and the stars are a good target. One could argue that the CCSSI is not the stars, but that’s a subject for another day.

I’ve found the best place to start in the alignment process is to consult my state department of education website for guidance. I use this resource all the time, but it’s fair to note that some state sites are better than others. Here is a link to the California site’s section on special education and CCSSI just to show an example.

They link to symposiums and other helpful events, but there is a tab for “assessment”. There is an organization, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and a California site to show how it all works. SBAC is national but not all states have joined the consortium. Your state department of education will provide similar links to SBAC if they are members. On their site, we can learn about achievement level setting. It seems others have walked this path before, so let’s let our colleagues help us. There is an organized way to migrate to CCSS in special ed classrooms. There are also technology assists for moving to an online testing environment.

In SBAC’s own words,

Achievement level setting, also known as standard setting, is the process used for establishing one or more cut scores on an assessment, making it possible to create categories of performance. Smarter Balanced Governing States are using a three-phase design for achievement level setting, which involves an online panel, an in-person panel, and a vertical articulation committee.” Through these ongoing panels, schools are learning how to adjust their existing classrooms to CCSS and testing for special needs students.

This is where I jump in and decry the level of commercial enterprise at work throughout the CCSSI environment. Or, do I? I no longer have a big problem with companies popping up to make a living with software, products, consortia, symposia or other packages of services to help schools navigate these enormous new challenges. Have I gone to the dark side?

I’m not entirely ready to question whether the public sector (corporations) should be handed the reins for all education related issues, but it’s worth looking at the options. State and federal departments of education are struggling to keep up with new regulations and protocols. I know, they should have thought of this before, but let’s back off a little and let some commercial enterprises in to help them out.

More resources to help sort it all out:

I’m hoping this blog stirs a response from you, makes you mad, or indignant, thrilled, or something. Even if you completely agree with my line of thinking, can you let me know what you think? We’re all trying to answer the question, “How do I align my curriculum to CCSSI”? Moreover, is it worth it?


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Description: Grants support organizations which provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to learn and enjoy the game of golf and its inherent values. The Alliance and the USGA share the belief that the game of golf is exceptionally well-suited to allow individuals with disabilities to participate in a recreational or competitive activity with participants who have various types of disabilities as well as those who do not have disabilities. We encourage inclusive programming – opportunities that allow participants with disabilities and participants without disabilities to learn and play the game side by side.

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Website: National Alliance for Accessible Golf

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