What is Common Core?
For many years, California set its own standards of academic achievement. Our children were given yearly standardized tests to measure whether or not they were meeting these minimum standards. In 2008, widespread concerns over floundering U.S. academic achievement prompted states to join together and create updated common academic standards that rely less on rote learning and more on critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These are called Common Core State Standards and currently cover only English and Math. The goal of Common Core is to prepare our kids to better compete in an increasingly global society. About 45 states that have adopted Common Core, including California, and will begin new standardized testing next year to determine whether students are actually making progress towards the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
How will my child be tested?
Students will be tested on the CCSS with the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) standardized test. Parents have expressed concern regarding the SBAC and what that will mean for their special needs child. In California, standardized testing has been known by many names, CAT 6, SAT 9, STAR, CMA, CAPA, etc. The SBAC is simply another form of standardized testing and should be approached in the same way.
What should I do to help my child?
First, determine what accommodations and modifications that your child might need (such as additional time, taking it a small group, having it read to her, etc.). There is a fairly long list of possible modifications on the Smarter Balanced website. It’s hard to find, so here’s the address (see Table 4): http://www.smarterbalanced.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Accomodations-for-under-represented-students.pdf.
There are also special accommodations available for English Language Learners. (See above website, Table 3)
Next, make sure your child’s IEP is amended to reflect all modifications. You can request a simple one-page amendment without the need for a full IEP meeting if this is the only change that you are making. Don’t forget to include the person who will be responsible for making sure these accommodations and modifications are in place, such as the Resource Teacher, Vice Principal, General Education Teacher, and the like.
Note that the SBAC will be taken by all students via computer. This means that your child must be able to use a computer keyboard by the 3rd grade. If you do not have access to a keyboard or your child has special needs that impact his or her ability to use a standard keyboard, now is the time to request an Assistive Technology assessment so that he can master keyboarding or other technology-related skills required for the SBAC.
Finally, take the time to research the SBAC and Common Core State Standards. Because California is leaving it up to the individual school districts to develop and use the new standards, the teaching models may vary. Don’t be shy. Ask your school principal, special education director, teachers, service providers and PTA leaders about how the CCSS is being implemented. If your school district has a designated person responsible for overseeing the change to CCSS, it is a good idea to meet with that person. Most school districts have begun scheduling information sessions for parents to review CCSS curriculum changes.
Many parents believe that they should “opt out” of standardized testing so that their child will not be “tracked” into lower functioning classes. While this is understandable, the downside is that we may never get a true picture of whether or not your child is progressing from year to year. Instead, you may want to make sure that you understand the scoring of the SBAC and how your child performed relative to others. The goal of CCSS is to raise our children’s academic performance on a national level so that we can remain competitive with other countries. Ensure that CCSS is not leaving your child behind in this race.