The Common Core impact on students with special needs

Posted at: 02/12/2014 12:18 AM
Updated at: 02/12/2014 11:29 AM
By: Dan Levy

GUILDERLAND - Just one day after the State Board of Regents announced they would be slowing down implementation of the Common Core reforms, a group of special stakeholders held a public forum Tuesday night at Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland to remind the state Board of Regents even more needs to be done.

The group included parents of students with special needs, along with special education teachers, and state lawmakers, all of whom were there to discuss the impact Common Core has on students with special needs.

Meredith Gavin, of Wynantskill, is the mother of a 10-year old boy with special needs. She says ever since the Common Core Curriculum was implemented in her son's school, doing homework with him causes frustration and tears for both of them, practically on a nightly basis.

"The parent involvement is the key to student success," Gavin says, "And you aren't going to have that with this new curriculum. Our kids are able to do the same curriculum (as general education students), they just need a little more time and they need it taught a little bit of a different way."

More than 450,000 school age students are classified as needing special education in New York State. The people who showed up in Guilerland Tuesday night are mostly parents and educators with a stake in special education, and more often than not, an opinion about it.

"If you press me, I would say that we need to have blurred lines or no lines between general and special education," said Dr. Rita Levay, Interim Director of Pupil Services for the Schenectady School District. "Over 70% of the pupils classified as special education students have normal cognitive abilities. They are bright, capable kids."

With several lawmakers listening in, education experts and stakeholders weighed-in on how students with special needs are impacted by Common Core but also expressed ideas that they believe could lead to more successful outcomes.

"It's successful that we're here and we're talking about it," says Katie Ferguson, a special education teacher from Schenectady, and a former New York State Teacher of the Year.

Ferguson says she'd like to see a moratorium on high stakes testing, also believing that special needs kids shouldn't be taking the same tests as general education students.

"We're listening to each others side and we're hoping that from this will be some fruit that bears success in terms of increasing the time we have to implement Common Core," she says.

"The more we learn about how this is going in the classroom can only help us," says Senator Cecelia Tkaczyk (D - Duanesburg), "either we're reassured that things are going well, we can make adjustments, and clearly we're all in this together, we want our kids to be successful."

Senator Neil Breslin (D - Delmar) says children with special needs shouldn't be tested by their age.

"You can't do that!" Breslin asserted. "You have to look at each individual. They all have their own special needs. If the State Education Department isn't hearing this ground swell of opposition they're tone deaf."

The Regents' new timetable will give the state until 2022 to hold high school students to the tougher Common Core standards. That new course also includes a request to Governor Cuomo for $525 million to pay for training to help teachers implement the new standards.