2015 Youth Achievement Award

Common Core State Standards

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By Candace Cortiella

In June 2010 the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) released the Common Core State Standards (CCSS or Common Core as they’re often termed) for instruction, providing states for the first time with common standards for all students in English/language arts and Mathematics.

The Common Core standards for grades K-12 were developed in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders, including content experts, state education officials, teachers, school administrators, and parents. To date, 45 states and 3 territories have adopted them. (State-by-state adoption details are available at

The CCSS establish clear and consistent goals for learning that will prepare America’s children for success in college and work.

These standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, providing a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. For many states, implementing the CCSS in lieu of their own academic standards will require a significant boost in rigor.

Positive Impact for Students with LD

For students with learning disabilities who receive special education services, the widespread adoption of the CCSS is sure to accelerate a practice that links the development of a student’s individualized education program (IEP) directly to grade-level standards—a process known as “standards-based IEPs.”

Aligning IEP goals with the skills needed to be proficient on the CCSS for a student’s enrolled grade level is critical to bolstering the intensity of instruction that will be necessary for students with LD to be successful in meeting these new, more rigorous standards.

The CCSS includes a statement regarding the application to students with disabilities. The statement makes these important points:

  • Common standards provide an historic opportunity to improve access to rigorous academic content standards for students with disabilities
  • Teachers and specialized instructional support personnel must be prepared and qualified to deliver high-quality, evidence-based, individualized instruction and support services

According to Sharen Bertrando, Special Education Development Program Specialist at WestEd and co-author of the new book, Teaching English Learners and Students with Learning Difficulties in an Inclusive Classroom: A Guidebook for Teachers, “the Common Core gives us an opportunity to encourage widespread implementation of more effective practices, because the standards are so flexible, so broadly written, and they take an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to learning that is aligned to real-life application.”

The CCSS consist of what Bertrando calls “staircased” learning progressions, building students’ knowledge and skills with increasing sophistication year by year until they achieve college and career readiness. According to Bertrando, such an approach is particularly helpful for students with learning disabilities, because it is often difficult for them to understand things that are not real or concrete. “The more integrated, ‘real-life’ approach engendered by the CCSS tends to be more motivating for many of these students.”

Improved Assessments

An important complement to the CCSS is the new assessments under development by two multi-state consortia funded by the U.S. Department of Education. These assessments must be designed for all students, including students with learning disabilities.

The assessments must incorporate universal design principles and provide all necessary accommodations.

Since these new assessments will be computer-based, many accommodations can be built into them, eliminating the need for human intervention in delivering the accommodations and removing the stigma often associated with test accommodations. Computer-based assessments improve the timeliness of results, providing teachers and parents with vital information to refine instruction.

Most states have joined one of these consortia and have agreed to implement the CCSS assessments starting in the 2014-2015 school year. Since the CCSS assessments cover only English/language arts and Mathematics, states will continue to administer their state-developed tests in other academic areas. States will also continue to set their own policies regarding high-school graduation requirements.

Together, the CCSS and the assessments aligned to them will help bring consistency across states, provide meaningful information on student performance for teachers and parents, and present opportunities for improved learning for students with LD.

Candace Cortiella is Director of The Advocacy Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of products and services to improve the lives of people with disabilities, particularly learning disabilities.