Brian Zorn, a special education teacher with the Mineola Union Free School District in Mineola, NY, wrote an op/ed for the Wall Street Journal (paywall) explaining how the Common Core-aligned assessments and the Common Core standards are leaving his students behind.
If average and above students are struggling, imagine what it must be like for my students—children with severe dyslexia, ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome and other learning disabilities. These exams undermine my students’ hard-won confidence and tell them they can’t compete. What does the state learn from my students’ exam results? I can only think of one thing. It proves that they are not academically on grade level. But isn’t that the main reason they are in special-education classes in the first place?
Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act, all students who receive special-educational services are entitled to a “free and appropriate” education. That education must be individualized and designed to meet the child’s unique needs. It is not appropriate to provide reading instruction that is three years above a special-education student’s grade level. Nor is it fair to ask a sixth-grade child with a learning disability who is struggling with basic math to take a test that includes evaluating algebraic expressions as well as other complex concepts.
On average, my class of nine students is reading more than 21/2 years below grade level. Some have average intelligence, but they struggle to learn in the ways others do.
One of my fifth-grade students spent his early school years frustrated and angry that he couldn’t read like everyone else. He felt defeated and disliked school. Yet with great patience and encouragement from his teachers, he can now read more than 200 words by sight and has begun to “crack the code,” applying phonemic awareness to unknown words to sound them out. His self-esteem has increased markedly and he has, for the first time, begun to enjoy reading.
Then came the statewide exams, and six horrific days in my classroom. On the first day, he laid his head down on the desk as tears rolled down his face. He couldn’t understand a single question in the ELA test, let alone entire passages. The test is written on a fifth-grade level; he is reading on a first-grade level.