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Common Core testing a big change for special education students in ND

GRAND FORKS - One Grand Forks teacher starts class with a simple statement. Nearly every day, special education students at Lewis and Clark Elementary School say "I can" - as in, "I can read more fluently, I can tell a story" - to help them bette...

GRAND FORKS – One Grand Forks teacher starts class with a simple statement.
Nearly every day, special education students at Lewis and Clark Elementary School say “I can” – as in, “I can read more fluently, I can tell a story” – to help them better understand the new Common Core education standards.
By reciting what they can do, they understand what their goal is and what they’re going to work on, said teacher Jamie Toutenhoofd.
“Kids need a purpose,” she said. “Why am I doing this? Why am I reading?”
Her technique is a simple example of what’s become a controversial topic. This year, thousands of special education and other students in North Dakota have been acclimating to the more rigorous English and math standards just as they’re under legislative review.
A House bill repealing Common Core was given a do-not-pass recommendation Wednesday by a 9-4 vote of the state House Education Committee. The bill has yet to go before the entire House.

For special education students, the standards will have their biggest effect on at least 6,000 this spring, when they take a new test, special education directors said. Roughly 2 percent with severe cognitive disabilities won’t have access to a test they used to, they said.
“For those students, it makes the most difference because their assessment (used to be) based on modified state standards,” said Gerry Teevens, director of special education at the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.


The new test affects a small but significant number of special education students.
Last year, of the 13,399 special education students in North Dakota, less than half participated in state testing, according to the most recent data available. The tests are given to students in third through eighth grades as well as high school juniors.
But an even smaller percentage – maybe 2 percent – will take a test that requires new training for teachers, said special education directors.
In the past, students with severe cognitive disabilities had taken an alternative to the state test. Now, they must take the online Smarter Balanced test that aligns with Common Core standards, prompting a new challenge for teachers.
“This will be a whole new ballgame,” said Toutenhoofd. “(Teachers) have to learn how to administer the test and find out what we can and can’t do. I think that’s a big change as far as our testing goes.”
Although the test will be given to all North Dakota students this spring, the one for students with severe cognitive disabilities adjusts to their ability level, education directors said. Plus, students can access additional support built into the tests, such as text to speech functions, if necessary.
Use of technology is required, too, but this won’t be a roadblock for most students, special education directors said. Depending on the teacher and district, technology is already well-incorporated into the classroom because “there’s just so many great software programs out there,” Teevens said.
“I really feel that our special ed kids are given good opportunity to use technology,” she said.

Standards in place


Common Core standards don’t alter much for students on a daily basis.
The standards’ goals have already been folded into students’ individual education plan, required for every student who has a disability, said special education directors. Teachers first determine a student’s needs and goals then go back to see how Common Core can fit in, said Grand Forks special education director Tricia Lee.
Toutenhoofd, who teaches kindergarten through fifth-grade students, said she doesn’t feel the standards have dramatically changed the curriculum.
“We’re preparing these kids for the rigors of the workplace and the rigors of being an adult,” she said.
Teevens said the standards also help hold students with disabilities to higher expectations.
“For such a long time, kids with disabilities were just not expected to achieve as much as other kids,” she said. “In the special ed world, we’re excited about the new standards.”

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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