An Introduction to the Common Core State Standards

Leah Wood and Alicia Saunders, UNC Charlotte

Undoubtedly, everyone invested in special education, personally or professionally, is affected by the changes in policy that have led to the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS; http://www.corestandards.org). As a field, we now have a collective agenda: the interpretation and implementation of the CCSS for all students. Again, undoubtedly, the range of emotions and reactions to this charge is wide; we can celebrate the civil significance of holding all students to high academic standards, and we can bemoan the daunting task of how to do this well.

Certainly teaching all students, including students with the most severe disabilities, to not only access but demonstrate progress on skills based on the CCSS requires considerable attention, time, and expertise. These standards are intentionally rigorous, and the scope of content is broad and thorough. We recognize that for many teachers in many states, you are being asked to use a new blueprint for instruction with seemingly very little guidance. We also believe, fully, that you are able to teach the CCSS, and that you are able to teach it well.

Consider the following analogy: Moving to a new home is a tremendous undertaking. Packing and planning to relocate requires teamwork, time, and a great deal of physical and emotional energy. But when you move into your new home, you bring the essential pieces you will need with you. You do not discard everything and rebuild from scratch. Maybe you keep your favorite furniture and those personal items that helped make your house a home. Of course, you’ll need to buy some new items too. This is very similar to adopting the CCSS in your classroom or school. You have experiences that have served your students well. As a field, we have decades of knowledge about evidence-based and research based practices that are best used for teaching our students a variety of skills and content. By no means should the CCSS be in competition with what we know about how to teach. Instead, we now have a set of academic standards that we can use to drive instruction. And we can use the tools we already have. This may not be simple, but it is possible. More importantly, as we become sharper and stronger at teaching grade-aligned content using practices supported by research, the impact we can make on the lives and outcomes of students with disabilities can only increase.

This edition of TASH Connections aims to introduce and discuss the CCSS as it relates to students with severe disabilities. We also have included two pieces specific to mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA), in which we have provided specific guidelines and suggestions for using what we know works (e.g., time delay, task analytic instruction) to effectively teach academic standards. Finally, we conclude with a piece that provides context for the development of the CCSS, rationale for teaching the CCSS to people with severe disabilities, and thoughts for moving forward. While the responsibility of teaching the CCSS to all students is ours to own, we are best suited to approach this new direction with the wisdom to use what we know are effective practices, the confidence that we are capable to teach this content, and the satisfaction that we are providing our students with a rich, full, and equitable educational experience.