How State Standards Affect Special Education

State standards are becoming a fact of life in public schools. Public education is driven by it, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to differentiate between the abilities and/or disabilities of the students.

Whether they happen to be enrolled in a general education program or in special education, students are expected to know and show competencies in a set of curriculums devised by state officials and educators. On top of that, they are expected to take part in the same forms of state testing which is meant to gauge these standards.

Also, the teachers – both general and special education – are expected to teach toward those standards.  This means that special education is increasingly becoming aligned with state standards – whether they address the students’ needs or not.

States standards are nothing new to public education; however, in an age of teacher and student accountability, the emphasis to adhere to them is increasingly becoming more important.

This is particularly true for special education. Special educators are expected to write Individual Education Plans (IEP) with goals and objectives with these standards in mind. Also, many RSP students enrolled in general education courses will be exposed to the same standards and will take the same benchmark exams their non-disabled peers will take.

Even special education students who need special modifications or material written at their level are expected to know how to do certain educational tasks or skills as devised by these standards. In some district, this may mean that these students – traditionally low functioning or far below basics- are still held at the same level of accountability as their peers.

Positive Impact

Many districts have attempted to address this need. Some have started mandatory afterschool tutoring programs for special education students. Others have established learning centers or study skills classes. The learning centers are usually open to all students, and serves as a place where the students can receive extra help. The study skills class (as some districts call it) is a credit/no-credit elective course in which RSP and SDC students will have the time to complete classroom or homework assignments.

These courses are coordinated by a special education teacher. In some cases, they are taught by two teachers specializing in critical areas such as math, English, social studies, or science.

Another tactic used by schools across the country is to initiate reading recovery programs or extra math essential courses. Courses such as Read 180 were designed to bring students with skills below their grade level up to the same levels as their peers.

These tactics have helped certain group of students with special needs (those labeled RSP or resource) become more integrated in the general population of a public school. Many of them are being added to general education classrooms with some accommodations. Also, SDC classes (which often cater to students with academic skills well below their grade level) are more structured and geared preparing the students for eventual inclusion in a general education setting.*

Negative Impact

Still, the push for standards hasn’t always had a positive impact on special education. In some cases, students who needed extra attention were placed in courses well above their abilities. In other cases, school districts disregarded standardized tests scores from these students in order to bolster its state rankings or meet certain criteria set by the state.

Since the most likely way to gauge if a school is following the state standards is through statewide testing, many schools have encouraged the practice of teaching to the test. In other words, many students – especially special education students – will only be taught facts or figures commonly used on the tests, or they’ll simply taught to regurgitate information rather than truly understanding it.

State standards have helped to put a focus on the type and quality of lessons used in the classroom. However, it doesn’t always reflect the needs of students with disabilities. While it may help them to be exposed to the same curriculum as their non-disabled peers, it may hinder them from addressing the essential skills they will need to reach a certain educational equality.

A major problem with states standards is that they are written to norms that may or may not fit the individual student. For students with special needs, they norms may not be what they need or can be obtained without proper attention or focus.


It should be noted that the difference between an RSP student and an SDC student is the amount of time spent outside a special education classroom. An RSP student may be monitored or have one or two special education classes. An SDC will have more than 50 percent of the day in a special education classroom).