Standards Reform in Special Education: Standards Allow Special and General Educators to Speak a Common Language. ACSA Has Developed Strategies to Align Goals and Objectives to the California Standards

Article excerpt

Moving students toward standards is not an easy task, nor has it been widely accepted by all educators. Many questions are raised by the use of standards to promote improvement. Can they be used to enhance opportunity to learn? will they improve teaching? Will standards lead to higher performance by all students, or will they produce new inequities?

When addressing the California Content Standards, successful special educators utilize not only the ACSA Handbook of Goals and Objectives Related to Essential State of California Content Standards, but they integrate appropriate K-12 standards from language arts and math into their IEPs.

How can administrators help teachers implement and master standards? One strategy that has been used by ACSA and the California Department of Education Special Education Division is Star-t [C], the process to align goals and objectives/benchmarks to the California Content Standards.

The concept is clear: When special educators use the same standards as general education teachers, they offer the same playing field. Special education students have a right to access the general education curriculum as mandated by IDEA 97.

Standards allow special and general educators to speak a common language. The consistency across classrooms, districts and the state improves when we are all aiming toward the same goal--to improve student learning by using the same "targets" or standards.

Standards tell us what to teach, but how we master each standard belongs to teachers. The "how" is why education is their chosen field.

There are many different strategies a special education program can use to assess, identify and implement a plan for student improvement. What we do with teachers is critical. If we continue to demand and expect without appropriately providing teachers with strategies, we are not only doing our teachers a disservice, but our students as well.

Once teachers know what they are teaching they know what to assess. Teachers need administrators to break down the task of analyzing test results in conceptual terms that are easily understood and can be easily implemented.

Use test scores to improve instruction

When administered in the context of ongoing classroom-based assessments and professional development, properly selected and properly interpreted tests can do the following: provide information about children's performance levels, identify the children who need extra instructional attention, and identify the classrooms in which teachers need extra instructional support.

Standards are the best thing that has happened to special education. Once educators understand the "sequence" or hierarchy to the standards, then moving students who function below grade level standards toward those standards becomes clearer and more obtainable.

One step toward becoming fluent in the complete K-12 standards involves providing special educators with all of the standards, as well as providing them with access to the general education curriculum.

Establishing a strategy: The Star-t [C] process

It is critical for special educators to establish clear strategies and to consistently begin to implement standards into the IEP. AB 265 in 1997 clearly required all students in California to meet standards and pass assessments. "All students" includes special education students.

During the IEP process, educators can simply refer to the Star-t [C] strategy. As one might determine, there is no first step. Each of the steps mentioned should be considered at any time during the development, implementation or assessment period of an IEP.

* Assess/Adjust

Assessing students to determine where a student is currently functioning is a starting point for many special educators. Usually, after each assessment general educators and special educators must make a decision to continue with their current objective/ benchmark or make an adjustment for mastery teaching and learning. …