Standards-driven reform is the primary approach to assuring today's high school graduates are internationally competitive. Prompted by the public dissatisfaction and poor performance by U.S. students on international assessments (McLaughlin, Shepard, & O'Day, 1995), educators, curriculum specialists, and national organizations have focused on development of challenging standards for over a decade. Recent legislation (i.e., Goals 2000; Improving America's Schools Act; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) has assisted these efforts and assured that students with disabilities are included, to the maximum extent possible. Central to this notion of reform is the assertion that all students are "entitled to instruction that is grounded in a common set of challenging standards" (McLaughlin, 1999, p. 10).
Rigorous standards are especially crucial for students with learning disabilities (LD) and emotional disorders (ED), who compose 72% (n = 2,002,314); (U.S. Department of Education, 2000) of the secondary students in special education and are commonly included in the general education environment. These students have historically been provided a less rigorous curriculum with individualized education program (IEP) goals that focus on computation (Shriner, Kim, Thurlow, & Ysseldyke, 1993) and have minimal linkage to long-term general education outcomes (Nolet & McLaughlin, 2000; Sands, Adams, & Stout, 1995; Smith, 1990). In the sections that follow, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards are discussed relative to standards-based reform efforts and students with disabilities, followed by a review of relevant characteristics of students with LD and ED. Finally, the purpose of the study is delineated.
NCTM AND REFORM EFFORTS
The NCTM is one of the national organizations that have produced a comprehensive approach to applying standards-driven reform. In 1989, a community of math educators and other professionals developed the Standards in an effort to address the low math performance of students in the United States. The NCTM Standards are guided by five main goals that encompass the "spirit" of the Standards, wherein students (a) become better problem solvers, (b) learn to reason mathematically, (c) learn to value mathematics, (d) become more confident in their mathematical ability, and (e) learn to communicate mathematically (NCTM, 1989). These goals reflect changes in math curriculum, assessment, and professional teaching practices (NCTM 1989; 1991; 1995; 2000) to help all students achieve in mathematics. In contrast to past reform efforts (e.g., Back to Basics) that narrowly focused on the acquisition and retention of basic math skills, NCTM Standards address problem-solving and reasoning skills deemed essential for an increasingly technological society and future employment.
Specifically, the focus of the Standards is on conceptual understanding rather than procedural knowledge or rule-driven computation. Student understanding of mathematical concepts is promoted via active engagement with manipulatives or concrete objects, applying math to real-world situations, group work and discussions, and teacher facilitation. This approach to mathematics education is supported by recent analysis of data from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Based on the data, researchers (National Institute on Educational Governance, Finance, Policymaking, and Management, 1998) indicate that the problem with U.S. student performance is not basic mathematical computation, but advanced mathematical concepts and problem-solving.
The NCTM Standards are a critical component of the Standards-driven reform movement. Although no current count exists that identifies the number of states that have adopted state standards consistent with those set forth by NCTM, Blank and Dalkilic (1992);(as noted in Thurlow, 2000) report that 42 states have used the Standards as a guide to development of mathematics standards. …