Skip to main content

Arkansas State University

The Obstacles of Common Core for Special Education

Although the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) attempt to ensure academic achievement in U.S. school systems, critics say the standards fall short of the learning needs of some student groups. This is especially true of special education assessment, which involves customized instruction, learning outcomes and assessments to meet the specific learning needs of each student.

Since the adoption of national standardized testing, the special education achievement gap has widened. Students in an online Master of Education in Special Education degree program can expect to study this issue in depth, including both the benefits and drawbacks of standardized testing, ways to improve the Common Core, adaptive instructional strategies, assistive technologies, and alternative assessment models that may better suit the needs of students with disabilities.

An Overview of CCSS

Educational policymakers developed the CCSS in 2009 to establish a national standard for academic achievement. Prior to the creation of the CCSS, every state set its own academic proficiency standards and assessments. This system placed the responsibility for their students’ educational achievement on the states themselves, but it resulted in performance disparities among different states and a general slippage in student performance in relation to students in other leading countries.

The idea behind the CCSS was to regulate and elevate achievement standards nationwide through standardized assessment in two areas: English Language Arts (ELA, including history, social studies, science and technical studies) and mathematics. “College- and career-readiness standards” established what students should know by the time they graduated from high school, and “K-12 standards” included assessments for each grade level. Individual states could elect to adopt the Common Core, and all but four states did so, although Minnesota only adopted the ELA standards, and three states have since withdrawn from Common Core.

Criticism of CCSS as Related to Special Education Assessments

Unfortunately, the implementation of CCSS has correlated with an increase in the special education achievement gap. Special education teachers have struggled to adapt Common Core-aligned assessments to the unique needs and learning styles of students with disabilities. Special education students learn according to Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that teachers and parents develop; these IEPs detail which adaptive technologies each student needs — for instance, computer-assisted learning. A student who has trouble processing words visually may respond better to materials read aloud. Hence, computer screen readers are common in special education classrooms, as are advanced forms of voice recognition and dictation software.

Teachers and administrators must align all of these accommodations with Common Core’s standardized assessments, which can create difficulties. For example, the current special education assessments differ from special education students’ classroom experiences. This makes it difficult for the students to perform well on the tests, since it requires them to learn new technologies on the spot that still may not address their learning needs.

Teachers also struggle with the one-size-fits-all nature of Common Core-aligned assessments. It can be difficult for a teacher in an inclusive classroom to meet the instructional needs of every student in the classroom while still covering the mandated curricula students will see on standardized tests. Yet another problem with “teaching to the test” involves time. Students with disabilities need more time to learn material than other students for a variety of reasons, including cognitive impairments and the speed of adaptive technologies. CCSS prescribe grade-level standards, even though a student with disabilities may need more than a grade-year to fully learn everything expected of them. Special education students often fall behind in this scenario, year after year, further widening the achievement gap.

Adaptive Strategies, Technologies and Alternative Assessment Models

Thankfully, there are a number of groups adapting Common Core assessments for students with disabilities. This can take the form of modeling adaptive assessment technologies on computer-assisted learning methods students already know, or adapting questioning methods to suit the cognitive abilities, such as limiting the amount of information programs convey at any given time.

In addition, many educators and parents are pushing for alternative standardized assessments, which take different learning styles and needs into account, as well as diverse cultural and economic backgrounds. Organizations like the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and American College Testing (ACT) are developing assessments along these lines in an attempt to address the needs of a wider range of students.

CCSS and the widening special education achievement gap need thoughtful consideration; research in personalized, effective instructional techniques; and, perhaps, alternative assessment methods appropriate to a wider range of learning needs and styles. Earning an MSE in Special Education online can prepare educators to adapt standardized testing and instruction methods to support special education assessment standards that help to close, rather than widen, the gap in special education.

Learn about the Arkansas State University online MSE in Special Education — Instructional Specialist program.


EducationWeek: Common-Core Tests Pose Challenges in Special Ed.

The Hechinger Report: Can special education students keep up with the Common Core?

Deseret News: Common Core accused of leaving special-needs students behind

Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Development Process English Language Arts Standards Math Application to Students with Disabilities

Related Articles

Request Information

Submit the form below, and an Enrollment Specialist will contact you to answer your questions.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Or call 866-621-8096

Ready to go?

Start your application today!
Or call 866-621-8096 866-621-8096
for help with any questions you have.
  • Choose All That Apply