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Common Standards Push States to Focus on Special Ed. Practices

As states across the country work on incorporating the Common Core State Standards, some states are paying special attention to how students with disabilities will tackle the content associated with them.

In one sense, the standards may make learning more manageable, said Carla Williamson, the executive director in the office of instruction for West Virginia's education department.

"Our curriculum has been a mile wide and an inch deep," she said. "These standards have removed that."

But the standards, more demanding than many states' existing standards, are still likely to prove a challenge for all students, including many with disabilities. As a result, states, including Williamson's, are incorporating strategies long associated with special education to ensure that students grasp the associated content regardless of their learning style or disability.

I explore the spread of universal design for learning and response to intervention because of the common-core standards in this piece, part of a larger collection of stories about the standards.

In West Virginia, RTI has been rebranded and retooled to shed its association with special education.

The new vision of "support for personalized learning" was developed collaboratively at the state level, she said. And there was "no better time to improve what we were doing."

Many teachers remain anxious about the standards, however, no matter the steps states may be taking to prepare.

"I worry that it will take years of mistakes and growth to get a working system, which means years of students failing and not living up to their full potential through no real fault of their own," said Richard Williams, who teaches students with disabilities at a middle school in the Atlanta area.

He's still waiting for more training opportunities to emerge, but he said he does feel hopeful about how the standards could one day transform his classes.

"I see my room slowly transforming into a colorful college classroom. I see desks moving from rows to circles or tables for group discussions. I see textbooks fading away to be replaced with 'libraries' of primary sources and topic-specific materials," said Williams, who blogs about his teaching experiences for the Council for Exceptional Children.

"I think even in special education where there is very little independent learning and high levels of guided learning, students will be increasing the level of self-discovery. I hope my teaching style will mature into less lecture/review and more into discussion/discovery."

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