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Helping special education kids excel within the CCSS

WEDNESDAY, MAY 28, 2014 14:16 PM

The waters of special education are difficult to navigate, and it seems that no one has a good map. However, schools and community programs have devised methods to make education accessible for all students, though some are more successful than others. Between alternate assessments and arts programs, educators are finding ways to ensure every child gets the education they need to start them off on the path to a bright future. 

Alternate testing options
Many states assess student progress within the Common Core State Standards by way of standardized tests. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are the two exams states offer (one or the other). Both tests are still in a trial period as creators use results from practice tests to make adjustments. While the SBAC and PARCC exams offer educators a way to assess the progress of most students, they aren't quite flexible enough to cater to special education children. For that reason, some groups are building standardized tests that provide an appropriate challenge level for special education kids. 

The Alternate Assessments come in a variety of forms, each of which are designed for a different level of need. For example, the Alternate Assessments Based on Alternate Achievement Standards are geared toward students with significant cognitive disabilities. Ideally, students will take the exam that best suits their needs and that will accurately test the knowledge they gained in school.

Using arts for special education
The Alternate Assessments operate on an intellectual and test-based level, but some programs seek to help special education students in other ways. Everyday Arts for Special Education (EASE) is a mentorship program where professionals working in the arts come alongside special education teachers. The artists, who may be actors, painters, musicians, etc., meet with special educators and offer insights into ways to bring the arts to the classroom. Together, the teacher and mentor devise activities that kids can do that involve a creative endeavor. The activities make learning Common Core-aligned content fun for students with cognitive disabilities. 

"The program is definitely designed to be integrated into the academic curriculum, but with the caveat that for many of our kids, the academic curriculum means something different," Jennifer Raine, the EASE curriculum designer, told Education Week.

EASE has become increasingly popular in New York City, where the program was founded. The New York City school district received funding from the Department of Education to implement the program in 10 schools and to assess its success. So far EASE has not shared results, though the program seems to be a hit, as more schools have requested it. 

While devising effective special education programs is a challenge, Alternate Assessments and the EASE program seem to offer solutions that help students meet the Standards.