How the Common Core Affects Kids with Learning Disabilities

January 24, 2014 by Geoff Nixon

Does it Create a Label of Failure That is Hard to Shake?

There’s no doubt that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has caused some controversy. Educators across the nation are strongly in favor or against this attempt to create universal standards while at the same time changing the focus of education, moving away from memorization towards higher-order thinking.

While there are benefits and disadvantages to this colossal change, two things seem certain:

  1. Standards are here to stay
  2. Critical thinking is a new national priority

These two themes are integral to the Common Core, as they are likely to be in any standards developed to replace the Common Core in states that have opted out or did not sign on initially.

The Impact of any Kind of Standard on Children with Learning Issues

One of the major complaints among educators is that the Common Core treats children like widgets, setting annual milestones along the mythical development curve of a child who will be proficient in 12th grade reading and math. with learning disabilities like widgets.

For children with learning disabilities these Common Core standards are mission impossible. They are like asking a child who is afraid of the water to swim a lap of a swimming pool or receive a FAIL or BELOW STANDARD grade. This is soul destroying for the child and the family.  The fact that the Common Core affects kids with learning disabilities in this negative way is part of the reason for educator resistance.

Educational outcomes do correlate with expectations, and so there is reason to hope that this lifting of expectations will broadly lift US educational outcomes. Kids with learning disabilities are a different case though. The Common Core will require everyone to lift their game, with special pressure on teachers to recognize when children are confronted with impossible-to-reach standards and coming up with a different plan for these children.

Critical Thinking and Learning Disabilities

Critical thinking is what gets students through college. It’s how new professionals find success. And it’s how we apply our years of education to real life circumstances – the things that matter. And often, children with reading problems, dyslexia, or auditory processing disorder don’t have access to the type of education they need to develop problem-solving skills in a traditional classroom. The focus on memorization and outward performance is overwhelming to a child whose brain isn’t able to make the usual verbal connections.

But these students can continue through to the next grade by memorizing the necessary facts to pass the test. The effects of the learning disability go undetected; students aren’t provided with the conditions needed for critical thinking to happen.

With the Common Core’s emphasis on critical thinking skills, teachers will focus more and more on this essential area of education. A student’s learning disability might come to light sooner with the greater emphasis on practical application. And the students can be provided with the learning environment and treatment they need for success.

In an article by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, special educator Chelsea Miller explains that while standardized testing can be especially difficult for students with learning disabilities, it’s fortunate that the CCSS encourages creativity in teaching.

Parenting a Child with Learning Disabilities in a Common Core World

Parents should be aware of how the Common Core affects kids with learning disabilities, and to as much as possible shield their children, certainly in elementary school, from the failure labels.

Given the acceleration of reading skill requirements embedded in the Common Core, parents should also consider outside assistance earlier than may have been the case prior. The 2nd and 3rd grade standards include quite challenging reading comprehension standards that are beyond many readers. Our reading help works on reading automaticity and the cognitive skills required for reading, the necessary foundation for this level of reading skill.

  • Trista Wilson

    For me personally I think common core is completely ridiculous. The way I see my son trying to learn math makes me furious. Did you know that the Common Core math is nothing more than an experiment from Chicago? I don’t feel this provides out children with encouragement to think on their own and come up with multiple ways to solve a problem. They are force fed that there is ONE solution to every problem when this is NOT the case. My son got questions marked wrong on his math test, even though he had the correct answer, simply because he would not do the “work” the way the school wanted it done.

    I think this common core is nothing more than a way to control our children and make them think the way certain people want them to. It does not provoke creative and critical thinking it brainwashes them to accept every thing they are told as the “correct way” and that may not always be the truth.

    I have since pulled my son out of public school because of common core and the state standardized testing which promote the same basic thing and are pointless, but that is another post, right? Haha

    • Trista, your experience regarding math is curious, as for all it’s ills I did think the Common Core aimed at improving numeracy, number understanding, as opposed to the prior US school approach of teaching methods to solve problems even if students are really sure why they work. What you describe is the opposite direction.

      • Trista Wilson

        Hi Geoff,
        I don’t think the common core math is very good at helping the students learn. I know a few parents in our public school district as well as some teachers who are really upset over having to use the common core methods. I just don’t see how it can be productive to teach a child only one way to solve a problem and then marking them as wrong when they get the right result but use a different format of reaching that result. I will say common core has been a very controversial topic around my area at least.

        • The argument is that logic and numeracy count for more than right results. The reason for the change is that prior approach meant many children were able to solve math problems using a method, without really understanding why that method works. The real value of math is actually being able to use it solve real world issues, applied math. And this is why US students do poorly on the PISA test versus the other international test, TIMMS. TIMSS provides equations to solve — US students can do that, whereas PISA outlines a real world issue and asks what math equation would you write to answer this question and then solve it. US students struggle with “applied math” and that is what Common Core is trying to address. The challenge for schools though is teaching this higher level of math dexterity requires a much higher level of math competence in teachers, otherwise a lot gets lost in translation! I am guessing that is what was happening at your school.