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Commentary: Common Core is too rigid

There has been much controversy about the Common Core curriculum and its hurried implementation in New York. Clearly, it has some good points — most importantly, clear and consistent standards that can be helpful in evaluating student learning.

However, Common Core has placed an overemphasis on testing and severely limited teachers' ability to deliver individualized lessons to students. This particularly hurts those with special needs.

Common Core was created by governors in an attempt to make our educational system more robust and relevant. To qualify for "Race to the Top" funding, states needed to adopt Common Core, with a goal of better preparing high school graduates to compete in a global economy. But it has wound up spotlighting some major flaws in of our educational system, namely an overreliance on standardized testing and assessments at the expense of meeting the needs of the whole child.

The standards and curriculum cannot be one-size-fits-all. The adoption of these curricula means teachers are no longer able to deliver lessons tailored to each child. This is especially problematic for children with disabilities.

Common Core seems to be inconsistent with federal law that requires special needs students to have an Individualized Education Plan. Common Core, as implemented, makes no distinction for children with special needs or those who are disabled. IEP's were designed to guarantee a quality education to those with disabilities, and Common Core's standards that all children must learn the same thing, at the same time, in the same way seem to be wholly in conflict with federal mandate of IEPs.

One area that must be addressed is the notion that we can test all children at their chronological grade level as opposed to their abilities based on their IEP. How, for example, does requiring a fifth-grade student who has the ability to read at a second-grade level to test at the fifth- grade level help us evaluate that child?

In forcing teachers to deliver a prescribed curriculum rather than teach children as individuals, Common Core has removed the flexibility teachers need to reach children of all backgrounds, abilities, and learning styles. It has also taken creativity out of the educational equation and has left children to fend for themselves. This will have a particularly devastating impact on children with special needs who, according to the Department of Education, now number over 410,000 statewide. Worse yet, there was a 27 percent increase in the identification of students with special needs between 1990 and 2010.

Common Core further fails to address widespread and growing child poverty. This isn't factored into testing, yet has a significant impact on how prepared children are to learn and how well they compare to their peers. Today, 22.4 percent of school-age children in the United States are living in poverty as opposed to 16 percent in 1990. This is among the highest rates in the industrialized world.

Although we need to create higher expectations for student learning through rigorous assessments, the form these assessments take can be more flexible to better reflect the student's learning style. One way to do this is to take the emphasis off standardized testing and to create more opportunities for open-ended and performance-based assessments. This would allow students to express different ways of demonstrating mastery of knowledge and skills. By customizing the educational experience, the student will be better served and the teacher can provide an individual and holistic approach to education.

It's time to slow down the implementation of Common Core and take some time to re-evaluate the impact this will have on our children before it's too late. If we don't get this right now, our children will pay the price with their future.

Published The Times Union on Thursday, January 30th, 2014