Teaching

Common Core – Where to begin this discussion?

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

In the language and literacy course I am teaching, we are currently discussing the Common Core standards and the implications of these standards for speech-language pathologists.  It is a fascinating discussion.  It was a hot topic at the recent ASHA Schools Conference in Pittsburg, and a number of presentations on the topic will be shared at the upcoming ASHA Convention in Orlando.

I have shared SLPs’ professional interest in the Common Core standards since they were introduced.  Over the last several months, I have been hearing more and more parent perspectives, which have also been interesting, to say the least.  Where I live, the mention of Common Core elicits either positive or extremely negative comments from parents.  A few of my students were already aware of this controversy and had a lot to share in our discussion.

There are critics who are indicating that they want the Common Core “curriculum” abolished.  I have heard from some parents who are ready to pull their children from their current school and are seeking out other schools that do not implement this “curriculum.”  Relative to the reading standards, I have read various comments indicating that the standards call for bypassing the teaching of building blocks for reading, including phonics and phonological awareness, and jumping to the expectation that children read full texts as early as Kindergarten.  For mathematics, I have heard some people indicate that the standards call for bypassing the teaching of basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables, and instead moving directly to the types of problem-solving tasks that are commonly appear in social media and You Tube videos.

As an educator and as a parent with children whose education is impacted by these standards, naturally, I have been concerned by many of these claims.  However, upon hearing or reading them, I go directly to the source and re-read the standards; to my relief, I am generally unable to find evidence in the standards to support such claims.

So, what’s going on?  It seems clear that there a many misconceptions and myths out there, and we as SLPs should be aware of them so that we can understand and better support the families we serve.  Perhaps the most common misconception is that the Common Core is a curriculum that tells teachers what and how to teach.  The standards, however, clearly indicate that Common Core is not a curriculum.  Rather, they are a set of goals.  These goals can be addressed within the curriculum that teachers and schools choose to implement.   Therefore, we may be able to help parents understand the difference between the standards and a curriculum, which guides implementation.  There seem to be dramatic differences between schools’ and districts’ curricula and implementation, with schools addressing the Common Core standards in different manners.  Importantly, most of the specific examples of parents’ concerns that I am hearing point to problems with implementation and high-stakes standardized testing, not the standards themselves.

As crazy as it may seem, I recently thought about this topic while eating Brussels sprouts after having read a social media thread.  My husband usually hates them, but for whatever reason, he decided to buy them and prepare a Brussels sprout salad using a new recipe.  The salad was incredibly delicious!  I couldn’t help but think that the Brussels sprouts reminded me of the standards; healthy or not, it’s the preparation, in other words, the curriculum and implementation, that makes the Brussels sprouts palatable or not.

Indeed, we do have to figure out how to make the standards palatable, how to make them “work” for our children.  Clearly, the standards aim very high, and they will be very challenging for our students with speech-language impairments.  Upon examination of not only the reading standards, but also the math standards, you can see that successful achievement will demand strong language skills.  Therefore, I think that speech-language pathologists have a tremendous role in ensuring the standards are targeted appropriately and successfully.  I also think that educators and administrators will continue to see the importance of our role as language experts in the achievement of these standards.

It is important for us to understand parent perspectives and to help provide accurate information about the standards and what they mean for their children.  If parents still do not favor the standards after clarifying misconceptions, that’s certainly their prerogative.  It is important for us to let families know that our role is to help their children succeed and to make the standards “work” for rather than against their children.

So while there is certainly more to be said, this is where I have begun our discussion of Common Core.  I am looking forward to the ASHA Convention and learning more about the topic.  If you are unable to attend, I would like to share that I am half-way through what I am finding to be an excellent, very insightful book: Pathways to the Common Core, written by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman.  If you are looking for a good read on this topic, I am learning a great deal from this book and will share some of their insights in an upcoming post.

Pathways to the Common Core
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Are we reporting standardized scores appropriately?

Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
-Henry Louis Mencken

This quote reminds me very much of speech and language assessment practices for linguistically diverse children. SLPs may look for simple solutions to complex problems, such as relying primarily on standardized tests to evaluate the skills of English language learners. However, oversimplification of the process is likely to yield an inaccurate diagnosis.

In the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, an important procedural safeguard indicates that testing and evaluation materials “will be selected and administered so as not to be racially or culturally discriminatory. Such materials or procedures shall be provided and administered in the child’s native language or mode of communication, unless it clearly is not feasible to do so. In 2006, regulations further specified that evaluation materials should be administered “in the form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally.”

Despite these safeguards, we are still seeing an overreliance on standardized assessments in English, even when test norms are not adequately representative of children’s cultural and linguistic background. Years ago, I remember evaluating an English speaking child from the Virgin Islands. The only English measures to which I had access were normed predominately on English speakers from the U.S. According to the test manual, a miniscule number of children in the normative sample lived outside the U.S. Therefore, I could not consider the norms adequately representative of my student.

What I would like to see in all reports is a description of the assessment measure that the clinician used with a statement about the normative sample.

For example, if I have a bilingual student and choose to administer the Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-Spanish Bilingual version, I provide a statement indicating that the test was normed on children growing up in bilingual (Spanish/English) environments in the U.S.

Likewise, is an SLP is conducting an assessment of an English language learner and finds benefit to administering an English assessment that was normed predominately on monolingual English speakers, the SLP should be clear about this in their report. Such specification helps clinicians explain why it is not always appropriate to report the standardized scores. In the report for this English language learner, the evaluator could write “This test was normed primarily on monolingual English speakers; therefore, in accordance with IDEA’s policy on appropriate testing, results are discussed in descriptive format.

Again, I would like to see a description of the normative sample in all reports. Many clinicians are already doing this. I think this is a critical piece of our reporting practices.

Intervention Ideas during African American History Month

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

Speech-language pathologists are increasingly designing their language interventions to align with school curricula. Of course, this is easier for school-based clinicians who have more communication with classroom teachers and easier access to classroom goals and lesson plans. For clinic-based clinicians, it may be somewhat more challenging to find out what their young clients are learning in the classroom, although parents often have access to this information which they can share with clinicians.

I am a strong supporter of language intervention that expands children’s language skills while also supporting their world and background knowledge. February is African American History Month during which the country celebrates the innumerable contributions that African Americans have made to the economic, cultural, social, and political developmental of the United States. If you are looking for ideas for language intervention themes this month, African American history is the perfect topic for clients of all ages. Think of all the rich content knowledge and vocabulary related to social studies and social language that you can incorporate: historical figures, government, geography, maps, cultures, timelines, feelings, and so many more.

Susie King Taylor

For example, one of the common core standards for second graders (ELA-Literacy.RI.2.3) indicates that children will describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text. For third graders (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.3), it states that children that children will describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect. According to one standard for sixth through eighth graders (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.10), students will read and comprehend history/social studies texts complexity band proficiently.

There are excellent resources available on the web, including children’s books and lesson plans, to help you plan intervention this month. Just a few are listed below. Enjoy African American History!

http://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/

http://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/teachers.html

http://www.readingrockets.org/calendar/blackhistory

https://www.teachervision.com/black-history-month/lesson-plan/48600.html