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