April 3, 2012 Features

Core Commitment

Are you ready for the Common Core State Standards?

Most states have adopted the standards, which involve all school personnel charged with supporting the curriculum, including school-based speech-language pathologists.

So what exactly are these standards and what do they mean? The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) education initiative outlines general cross-disciplinary expectations that have been deemed essential for college and career readiness in the 21st century. Built on existing state standards, the CCSS seek to ensure consistency and quality across the country's educational systems. Although developed by state leaders and not intended to be a federal curriculum, to date, all but five states (Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia) have adopted the CCSS.

Core CommitmentThe initiative emerged two years ago as a way to streamline the educational standards across the country (see online sidebar, "Where Did the CCSS Come From and Why?"). The goal of the CCSS is to provide a clear set of shared goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills needed by students to succeed in a global society. The standards are divided into two general domains:

  • English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.
  • Mathematics.

Each domain contains a hierarchy of skills that students are expected to acquire at each K–12 grade level with the vision that, by the end of high school, students will be competitive in their future settings (see example standards in chart [PDF]). Although the obvious targets for this pedagogy are teachers, school-based SLPs are equally affected by this initiative. In fact, the first domain (English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects) is particularly reliant on a student's communication competence—the main focus of SLPs' work.

Students With Disabilities

The CCSS are intended to serve as academic content standards for all students, including those with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). One of the CCSS documents is titled "Applications to Students with Disabilities," [PDF] and includes the following statement:

Students with disabilities—students eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—must be challenged to excel within the general curriculum and be prepared for success in their post-school lives, including college and/or careers. These common standards provide an historic opportunity to improve access to rigorous academic content standards for students with disabilities. The continued development of understanding about research-based instructional practices and a focus on their effective implementation will help improve access to mathematics and English language arts (ELA) standards for all students, including those with disabilities.

The document further notes that instruction for students should use the principles of Universal Design for Learning: to afford all students equal access to the educational curriculum, providing flexible means of expression and frequent opportunities for engagement with the classroom curriculum (Rose & Meyer, 2000). Individualized supports and accommodations are specified as including:

  • Supports and related services designed to meet the unique needs of these students and to enable their access to the general education curriculum (IDEA 34 CFR §300.34, 2004).
  • An IEP, which includes annual goals aligned with and chosen to facilitate a student's attainment of grade-level academic standards.
  • Teachers and specialized instructional support personnel who are prepared and qualified to deliver high-quality, evidence-based, individualized instruction and support services.

Communication in oral and written forms—listening, speaking, reading, and writing—is key to student success. Students must have communication skills to participate meaningfully in the classroom and learn to read, write, and interact with their peers. Often, students with speech and language disorders do not achieve their maximum potential in the classroom because they do not have the language and communication skills needed to be successful with specific aspects of the school curriculum (e.g., Catts, Fey, Zhang, & Tomblin, 1999; Gillam & Johnston, 1992; Scott & Windsor, 2000).

How and Where Can SLPs Help?

First and foremost, schools must strive to teach all students in all classrooms to help them access a standards-based, core curriculum. SLPs can help. Not only does the CCSS for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects call for shared responsibility for students' literacy development, but the CCSS for Mathematics also has a language component (e.g., discipline-specific vocabulary and syntax) and a communication component (e.g., making efforts to understand the language of instruction and to seek clarification when necessary) in which SLP services could help. Given these facts, a discussion with team members about how SLP services are related to these standards is important.

One way to explain to other team members where SLP services fit in is in the context of ASHA's 2010 document on roles and responsibilities of SLPs in schools (ASHA, 2010). The document outlines roles in four areas:

  • Critical roles.
  • Range of responsibilities.
  • Collaboration.
  • Leadership.

Each of these roles has a distinct and direct relationship to implementing the CCSS and provides opportunities for SLPs to become actively involved.

Critical Roles

The critical roles of school-based SLPs include substantive work in supporting curriculum mastery. The roles and responsibilities document indicates that:

SLPs provide a distinct set of roles based on their focused expertise in language. They offer assistance in addressing the linguistic and metalinguistic foundations of curriculum learning for students with disabilities, as well as other learners who are at risk for school failure, or those who struggle in school settings (ASHA, 2010, p. 1).

This statement means SLPs have unique contributions to make to the CCSS across grades K–12 for a wide range of students in general and special education. For example, SLPs might help general education teachers implement CCSS with all students. In the context of response to intervention (RTI), SLPs could help students who are struggling with acquisition of the CCSS across tiers. Linking the CCSS with assessment and instruction or intervention enables SLPs to ensure that students' goals are matched with students' communication needs, curriculum expectations, and classroom demands.

It is important to communicate how the unique contributions of SLPs to CCSS implementation relate to their expertise in language. SLPs can focus on the language underpinnings of the standards during direct intervention with students and when working with teachers. In either case, it is the primary responsibility of the teacher, not the SLP, to teach the standards.

Range of Responsibilities

SLPs perform myriad tasks related to prevention, assessment, and intervention. As SLPs become more and more involved with RTI efforts, they may be called upon to prevent or mitigate learning difficulties in students, including ensuring that basic language and emergent literacy skills are in place so that young students are prepared to meet the CCSS. As members of RTI teams, SLPs also can make valuable contributions to identification, problem-solving, and decision-making activities as they gauge student progress and growth on CCSS assessment data.

For example, in assessment, SLPs can identify language skills that may be at the root of difficulties in achieving the standards. They might work with a fifth-grade teacher to ascertain whether a student who has not mastered the standard—"Read on-level prose and poetry orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings"—is having difficulty because he does not recognize phrase boundaries when reading. Such an inquiry would help determine if there is an underlying metalinguistic problem to the student's reading fluency problem. Within the classroom, the SLP could perform an informal, curriculum-based assessment by observing the student's performance during a specific activity, observing the student's general performance, and scaffolding a closer match to the specifications for meeting the standard.

Because students with a variety of language impairments are likely to encounter difficulties with mastery of the CCSS, the SLP's role in intervention and instruction will be significant. Clinicians can help students develop, access, or use skills and strategies necessary to learn the curriculum. For example, the standard for "Kindergarten Reading-Informational Text, Key Ideas and Details," specifies that the student will "With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text." When students have difficulty meeting this standard, the SLP could work on fundamental vocabulary and syntax to prepare them to ask and answer yes/no and "wh" questions. They also could work with other students who are struggling with this standard for similar reasons but who are not receiving special education or related services. This example is just one of many demonstrating that SLPs can support the CCSS by addressing language skills and strategies.


With the increased challenges of the CCSS, work in schools requires SLPs to partner with others, more than ever, to meet students' needs. Although the CCSS are designed to be implemented by general education teachers, the CCSS also recognize that attainment of the standards requires shared responsibility among educators. The integrative nature of the CCSS provides tailor-made opportunities for teachers and SLPs to combine their expertise and experience to create high-quality instruction. Collaborative efforts for the CCSS can occur in a variety of instructional settings to address diverse student needs, and are compatible with RTI frameworks and other service delivery models. The SLP can work with the teacher to develop classroom techniques to implement the standards and assist with differentiated instruction for students who are at different proficiency levels across the standards. For example, the sixth-grade language arts teacher may be addressing the writing standard that calls for students to "Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence," and to "Use words, phrases, and clauses to clarify the relationships among claim(s) and reasons." The SLP's contribution could be to scaffold the abilities for a variety of students who may need more explicit instruction in formulating complex clauses. The SLP then might conduct a demonstration lesson on sentence combining so that the teacher could later use that technique with students who need it.

Collaboration plays out differently at different grades. In primary grades, a single teacher is usually responsible for teaching the entire curriculum, involving only one partnership on behalf of a student. In secondary grades, however, the SLP will need to collaborate with several teachers in specific areas of disciplinary literacy (e.g., world history, biology, English literature, geometry). These partnerships will vary depending on the educational level, educational setting, needs of students at different levels, needs and interests of educational partners, and administrative policies. No single model is recommended universally for collaborative partnerships; the most effective partnerships are generally those that are "locally grown" by teachers and SLPs. What is most important to remember about collaboration is that each partner brings a valuable body of knowledge and a set of experiences.


CCSS provides an opportunity for SLPs to play roles as leaders in school settings. Leadership at this early stage of CCSS adoption is sorely needed. Most important, all educators need to appreciate the role of language in academic learning and understand the complex language requirements at the core of the CCSS. This demand places SLPs in an advantageous position to explain or clarify the language issues connected with the standards. For example, with the eighth-grade Speaking and Listening standard—calling for students to "Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher led) with diverse partners on grade-8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly"—the SLP could conduct professional development activities with eighth-grade teachers to help them understand the linguistic and metalinguistic requirements for successfully mastering this particular standard.

The CCSS also provides a context to clarify the roles of SLPs in schools, to help the profession move away from the narrow role definition of "speech teacher." SLPs may have to initiate these collaborative efforts and engage colleagues in discussions about their contributions and be proactive about their involvement with the standards. For example, the Language-Vocabulary Acquisition standard for grades 11–12 specifies that students be able to "Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression." This standard is an excellent rallying point for role advocacy; SLPs' expertise is key to meeting this standard and illustrates the important roles SLPs play in secondary schools as well as in the primary school arena. Leadership roles extend beyond the classroom and school; the expertise of SLPs can be leveraged to shape and influence K–12 educational policies at the district and state levels.

A Priority for SLPs

Implementation of the CCSS is now a curriculum priority for 45 states. As detailed here, SLPs have a direct role in implementing the CCSS with students who are struggling with language/literacy, some of whom have disorders, as well as in supporting classroom teachers. The ability to implement these roles effectively depends on knowledge of the CCSS, understanding of the typical developmental processes and stages of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, and the needs of students with diverse abilities and needs.

This article was written by members of the Committee on Speech and Language Learning Disabilities in Children of the Council for Exceptional Children/Division for Communicative Disabilities and Deafness (DCDD). The division promotes the welfare, development, and education of infants, toddlers, children, and youth with communicative disabilities or who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Barbara J. Ehren, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor and director of the doctoral program at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and a board-recognized specialist in child language. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1 (Language Learning and Education) and 16 (School-Based Issues). Contact her at barbara.ehren@ucf.edu.

Jean Blosser, EdD, CCC-SLP, is professor emeritus at the University of Akron and vice president of therapy programs and quality at Progressus Therapy. She is an affiliate of SIGs 1, 10 (Issues in Higher Education), 11 (Administration and Supervision), 16, and 18 (Telepractice). Contact her at jean.blosser@progressustherapy.com.

Froma P. Roth, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor emeritus at the University of Maryland and ASHA associate director of academic affairs and higher education. She is an affiliate of SIG 1 and ex officio to SIG 10. Contact her at froth@asha.org.

Diane R. Paul, PhD, CCC-SLP, is ASHA director of clinical issues in speech-language pathology at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, chair of DCDD Committee, and ex officio to SIG 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders. Contact her at dpaul@asha.org.

Nickola W. Nelson, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology and director of the PhD program in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences at Western Michigan University. She is a board-recognized specialist in child language and an affiliate of SIGs 1 and 16. Contact her at nickola.nelson@wmich.edu.

cite as: Ehren, B. J. , Blosser, J. , Roth, F. P. , Paul, D. R.  & Nelson, N. W. (2012, April 03). Core Commitment. The ASHA Leader.

Examples of Instructional Activities for the Common Core Standards

Looking for ideas to help your school implement the standards? Following are examples of whole-class activities that teachers often use for three different grades: 1, 5, and 9. Each example is followed by activities that SLPs might suggest for teachers to use with students who struggle. SLPs also may provide direct, intensive instruction with students who are having difficulty with language and communication. For effective collaboration, SLPs must have an appropriate workload allowing time and opportunity to interact with teachers.

Grade 1

Language Standard for Conventions of Standard English: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking; use and understand commonly occurring adjectives.

General Classroom

  • Talk about words that tell about size, color, shape, and how something smells, feels, or tastes.
  • Talk about how we use many adjectives to describe the food we eat. Present foods with different tastes and textures, such as apples, raisins, and pretzels.
  • Engage students in a brainstorming session with students about words that describe the size, shape, and feel of each food sample.

For Students Who Require Additional Scaffolding

  • Visual cues: Write size, color, shape, smells likes, feels like and tastes like on the top of a piece of paper. Give students one of the sample foods. Ask them to generate a word for each category that describes the food.
  • Forced-choice questions: Give students choices such as: Are apples red or white? Are raisins large or small? Are pretzels sweet or salty?

For Students Who Require Greater Scaffolding

  • Completion/Cloze statements: Ask students to complete statements with an adjective:
    1. Raisins feel_____
    2. The skin of a raisin is__________
    3. The raisin tastes______________
  • Use different stimuli: Read a story such as "Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What Is an Adjective?" by Brian P. Cleary and Jenya Prosmitsky. Raise your voice with emphasis when you come to an adjective.

Adapted from: Roth, F. P., Dougherty, D. P., Paul, D. R., & Adamczyk, D. (2010). RTI in action: Oral language activities for K-2 classrooms. Rockville, MD: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 144–145.

Grade 5

Reading Standard—Literature: Determine a theme of story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters respond to challenges, or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; and summarize the text.

General Classroom

  • Talk about the theme of a story; read in class such as "Far North" by Will Hobbs (1997, Camelot Press).
  • Have class summarize the story, reminding them that a summary is a short description of the main ideas expressed in a story and contains the most important information. Also remind class that, in a summary, we do not include details, just the main ideas. Have volunteers write their summaries on the board and discuss with the class. Then ask the class to use the summary to help them think about the theme of the book, reminding them that the theme is the central idea or underlying message in a story and that the theme is not usually stated by the author; instead it is up to the reader to infer the theme.
  • Establish the theme of the book. For example, in "Far North," the theme is survival.
  • Talk about the general meaning of the theme (survival: continued existence of a life or customs) and then what it means in this story. For example: In this book, survival has two meanings: (1) physical survival of Gabe and Raymond and (2) survival of the traditions of the Dene culture.
  • Pose a thought question such as: What information in the story helps us infer the theme?
  • Organize students' responses into chart form with column headings that are appropriate for the theme of the selected book. For "Far North," examples may include: Character Traits, Setting of Story, Skills of Main Characters Before the Problem, Skills Learned to Solve the Problem(s), How Characters Changed After the Survival Experience.
  • Ask class to generate information for each section of the chart, beginning with character traits. Ask students to refer to the story and give specific examples.
  • Using chart, start class discussion of the connections between the challenge(s) faced by the protagonists and their character traits, and how the characters changed as a result of their challenges.
  • Instruct students to refer to the chart to write a two-paragraph essay to answer the thought question posed earlier in the lesson: What information in the story helps us infer the theme? Tell students to:
    • State the theme in the first sentence and explain how specific information in the book shows the theme.
    • Include examples that clearly show the connections between the characters and the problem(s) they faced, and their actions/responses.
    • Have volunteers share their essays with the class and make suggestions as needed.

For Students Who Require Additional Scaffolding

  • Double dose of instruction: Re-teach the lesson on a subsequent day, doubling the amount of instructional time spent on this standard.
  • Elaboration/Auditory cues: Ask questions about the characters, such as their actions at different points of the story, to help connect these traits with the theme of the story.

For Students Who Require Greater Scaffolding

  • Role playing: Assign students a character in the story, instruct them to think about the character and the character's actions, and then act out a small section of the book, reminding them to act like their character. Then hold a debriefing session after the role-play to discuss how each student portrayed his or her character and actions. Talk about what went right and what changes you would make in your role play (e.g., character traits, actions of character).
  • Modeling: Explain the purpose of a role-play. As the students observe, act out each character to demonstrate the character's traits and actions in one section of the story.

Adapted from: Roth, F. P., Dixon, D., Paul, D. R., & Bellini, P. (in preparation). RTI in Action: Supporting Oral and Written Common Core State Standards for Grades 3–5. Rockville, MD: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Grade 9

Writing Standards: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and sufficient information.

General Classroom

  • During a history unit on the implications of globalization and societal diversity, display and discuss the following quote:

"So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal." (President John F. Kennedy—Strategy of Peace, June 10, 1963)

  • Instruct class to develop a first draft of an opinion essay on the meaning of and importance of diversity that can be submitted as an editorial for the school newspaper.
  • Remind the class of the main components of an opinion essay (introduction, body, and conclusion).
  • Instruct them to be sure to (1) focus on the meaning of diversity; (2) consider the purpose, context, and audience for their editorial; (3) use the class readings, other readings, and their own experiences to construct their arguments; (3) organize their ideas and details effectively; (5) include specific details that clearly develop their editorial; and (6) edit their editorial for standard grammar and language usage..

For Students Who Require Additional Scaffolding

  • Elaboration: Provide students with information about the contents of each of the three main components of an opinion essay, such as: "The introduction summarizes both points on view in a brief paragraph; the body consists of two or three paragraphs giving your opinion and reasons, and the opposing arguments and reasons; the conclusion is a restatement of the introductory paragraph."
  • Advance organizers: Ask students to chart or outline the three component sections of their essays for teacher/SLP to review prior to beginning the written draft of the essay.

For Students Who Require Greater Scaffolding

  • Concentrated instruction: Ask students to outline/chart each individual component for teacher to review prior to writing that section.
  • Multiple modalities: Ask students questions to elicit verbal responses about the kind of information they intend to include in each individual section. After providing instructional feedback, instruct students to write notes pertaining to the key information for each section of their essay and to then use those notes to develop their initial draft.

Where Did the CCSS Come From and Why?

Common Core State Standards Initiative Mission Statement

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

—Council of Chief State School Officers and The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices

Educators have consistently strived to provide America's youth with high-quality education. The mission statement quoted above for the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) was formulated by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center), two organizations that influence the direction of education in the United States. In 2010, CCSSO and NGA Center joined forces and established standards that could serve as a consistent framework across states for targeting educational excellence and success. They set the bar high by establishing the CCSS Initiative (NGA Center and CCSO, 2010).

The driving force in establishing this initiative was to ensure that all students are prepared for college and the work force. The purpose of the initiative also was to ensure consistency and quality throughout the educational systems across state boundaries. The official CCSS website lists the final CCSS and explains the process for developing them. It also describes how the CCSS built on existing state standards and should not be viewed as a federal curriculum. In addition, the introduction to the CCSS emphasizes that the implementation of the CCSS is an initiative of the states and is under the direction of state rather than federal control.

The development of the standards was, to a large extent, a political process, but it also was conducted using processes of scholarly rigor. The CCSS Initiative indicates that the standards are "research-based" in that their development included integration of best practices and education research from throughout the world. The website includes documentation in appendices of the research providing the rationale for the developmental hierarchies.

Several working groups and constituencies participated throughout the development of the CCSS. These groups included teachers and other educational professionals whose expertise contributed to the content and assessment of the standards, as well as a similarly qualified group that provided feedback on the drafted standards (see lists of committee members at the National Governor's Association website [PDF]).

Researchers from the early childhood, K–12, and higher education communities informed the development of the CCSS. The CCSS also were opened for public comment and were subjected to external peer review (Carmichael et al., 2010) prior to the publication of the final set of standards, which is dated June 2, 2010.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2010). Roles and responsibilities of speech-language pathologists in schools [Professional Issues Statement]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.

Carmichael, S. B., Wilson, W. S., Martino, G., Finn, C. E., Porter-Magee, K., & Winkler, A. M. (2010). Review of the draft K–12 Common Core Standards. Dayton, OH: Thomas B. Fordham Institute. (Retrieved Feb. 14, 2012, from www.edexcellence.net/publications/review-of-the-draft-k-12.html.)

Catts, H., Fey, M., Zhang, X., & Tomblin, J. B. (1999). Language basis of reading and reading disabilities: Evidence from a longitudinal study. Scientific Studies of Reading, 3, 331–361.

Gillam, R. B., & Johnston, J. (1992). Spoken and written relationships in language/learning impaired and normally achieving school-age children. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 35, 1303–1315.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards. Washington DC: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers.

Roth, F. P., Dougherty, D. P., Paul, D. R., & Adamczyk, D. (2010). RTI in action: Oral language activities for K-2 classrooms. Rockville, MD: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 144–145.

Roth, F. P., Dixon, D., Paul, D. R., & Bellini, P. (in preparation). RTI in Action: Supporting Oral and Written Common Core State Standards for Grades 3–5. Rockville, MD: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Scott, C. M., & Windsor, J. (2000). General language performance measures in spoken and written narrative and expository discourse of school-age children with language learning disabilities. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 43, 324–399.


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