Four on the Core Though ever more controversial, and in some cases endangered, the Common Core State Standards are, nevertheless, a reality in most of the nation’s schools. Like classroom teachers, school-based SLPs have worked diligently to adopt the standards in their work. We track the experiences of four of them to see how it’s going. Features
Features  |   September 01, 2014
Four on the Core
Author Notes
  • Perry Flynn, MEd, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the speech-language pathology consultant to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. As chair of ASHA’s Speech-Language Pathology Advisory Council, he is a member of the ASHA Board of Directors. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; and 16, School-Based Issues.
    Perry Flynn, MEd, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the speech-language pathology consultant to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. As chair of ASHA’s Speech-Language Pathology Advisory Council, he is a member of the ASHA Board of Directors. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; and 16, School-Based Issues.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Features
Features   |   September 01, 2014
Four on the Core
The ASHA Leader, September 2014, Vol. 19, 46-55. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.19092014.46
The ASHA Leader, September 2014, Vol. 19, 46-55. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.19092014.46
They’re on the lips of parents and educators in just about every state, yet the Common Core State Standards can seem so … theoretical. Commanding, yet open for interpretation. Expanding, yet also limiting.
The standards’ spirit is certainly clear: to create a level educational playing field and propel students to become competent communicators and globally competitive citizens. But the means of implementing the standards—left largely up to the states—is not so clear. So, in the 44 states that have adopted the standards over the past four years, school professionals have been feverishly working to align their services with them. And speech-language pathologists are no exception.
How have school-based SLPs fared at this enterprise? Their experiences are no doubt varied. But the Leader wanted to get a sense of how it’s been going for them overall, and what they can learn from one another. In this first of two articles, the Leader checked in with SLPs in four regions of the country to see how they’re doing with the standards. In the second article, we’ll ask them to summarize their experiences at the end of the school year to see how their work with the standards evolved.
We should note: The standards’ adoption has not been immune to partisan politics. The CCSS face opposition from some state legislators, governors, teachers and parents, and have even been repealed in South Carolina. This past summer, North Carolina rejected the Common Core and is working on revised standards that may incorporate aspects of it. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act may require states to adopt the standards if they wish to receive federal money—right now, there are federal monetary incentives to use them through the Race to the Top competitive grants. Time will tell how this all plays out.
Why all the controversy and, in some places, repeal? Some see the Common Core as the federal government meddling in the business of states. Some teachers, parents and SLPs see the standards as too rigorous—or not rigorous enough. Some express concern that the standards foster “teaching to the test” and squelch educators’ ability to tailor the curriculum to individual students’ needs. There has been controversy about assessment of student progress toward meeting the standards, especially for exceptional children (see “Taking Measure”). Further, some educators believe the standards focus too much on higher-level, abstract thinking, while neglecting more concrete, prerequisite cognitive skills.
Finally, some critics say that the standards leave some children behind by moving them forward whether or not they meet grade-level expectations. Our contributors have encountered some of these concerns. But they also see the standards’ potential advantages for school-based SLPs, such as:
  • Opportunities to collaborate with a variety of school-based partners.

  • A framework to tie speech-language services to educationally relevant communication skills by grade levels.

  • Increased recognition of the SLP’s role in supporting students as they acquire and master educationally relevant communication skills.

  • Consistency in grade-level expectations in communication skills across the country.

  • Opportunities to work with teachers to help students meet the standards.

  • A structure for educationally relevant assessment through the use of standard, nonstandard and classroom-based measures.

In addition to these potential advantages, the standards also provide a clear “map” of the communication expectations of the classroom. Teachers, SLPs and other members of the educational team share responsibility for making sure students meet the standards. This shared responsibility opens lines of communication and fosters collaboration on decisions about providing services in the least-restrictive environment.
It will be interesting to see how our four SLPs’ experiences this year support or refute the standards’ quality-boosting intent.
April Brown, MS, CCC-SLP
Setting: Madison Elementary School, Stevens Point Area School District, Stevens Point, Wisconsin
Population: Pre-K to grade 6; diverse.
Stage of Common Core adoption: An “implementation phase.” Math has unpacked the math standards. Language arts will unpack the language arts standards next year.
What type of communication and/or training have you received and what was the source?
Our special education leaders have received communication and training from the state and they have shared that training at the district level with our speech-language group. I have also received training specific to SLPs for supporting the Common Core and collaborating with teachers to support literacy and language development at the annual CESA 5 (Wisconsin Cooperative Educational Service Agency #5) Speech/Language Institute and at the Wisconsin Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Association’s annual convention. At Madison Elementary, understanding standards has been a focus of our school’s professional development plan and professional development times have been designated for this.
Do you need more? What would be helpful?
Smarter Balanced and Dynamic Learning Maps testing came about because of the standards. The Smarter Balanced test is aligned to the standards in English language arts/literacy (ELA/literacy) and mathematics for grades 3–8 and 11 to measure students’ career and college readiness. It will replace Wisconsin’s Knowledge and Concepts Examination. The Common Core Essential Elements also serve as the foundation of the Smarter Balanced test, the new alternate assessment. More training on how SLPs can better prepare students for these assessments and on testing accommodations would be helpful. Continuing to learn the Common Core as the standards are unpacked and sharing activities that meet the standards will be helpful for all educators.
What are some (if any) of the most pressing challenges you see working with the standards? What have you experienced firsthand?
The biggest challenge I’ve observed is that although the standards are specific to each grade level, they can be open to interpretation. Consistency among teachers, schools and districts is important to ensure that expectations of each standard are clear. For many of the standards, the term “grade level” is used to describe the standard. Consistency about what the term “grade level” specifically includes for each standard would be helpful so teachers are aware of what the previous grade level has covered. The Common Core Essential Elements had instructional-level achievement level descriptors, which were very useful when collaborating for Individualized Education Program goals. If something like this was in place for the Common Core, it would be helpful for educators when it comes to consistency and grading.
What are some of the opportunities presented by the standards?
Some of the challenges also can be seen as a positive, as they encourage educators to have discussions and develop consistent, clear and specific expectations. Local schools decide how the standards should be taught and which resources are used in the curriculum versus the Common Core defining the curriculum. Once these are determined by the school district, teachers can focus on instruction.
Has the Common Core changed the way you work day-to-day? Has it changed the way you collaborate with your team?
As an SLP, I continue to collaborate with Individualized Education Program teams to develop goals aligned to the needs of the child and to the Common Core. Madison Elementary is working toward implementing a common planning time for special and regular education teachers to allow for collaboration. With the implementation of the Common Core, I have increased ongoing collaboration with teachers. Our district’s speech-language pathology group put together a resource that aligns listening comprehension and oral expression skills with the standards for grades pre-K to 12, which has been a useful resource. I have seen the biggest impact of the standards fall on the regular education teachers, as they have been given the added responsibility of determining when and where each standard will be taught, what it includes, what mastery looks like, and that mastery is documented on report cards.
Kevin Maier II, MS, CCC-SLP
Setting: Elementary school in School District of Lancaster, Eastern Pennsylvania
Population: Elementary school students; mostly Hispanic.
Stage of Common Core adoption: Transition to the standards started in the 2013–2014 school year.
What type of communication and/or training have you received and what was the source?
We have received training through our professional development meetings. Our building principal and director of special education typically conveyed the Common Core information. We completed self-assessments of our understanding of the Common Core during professional development meetings, which were used to support our understanding of the standards process and provided the staff with opportunities to have their questions answered by the administrators.
Do you need more? What would be helpful?
I think getting continuous feedback from our administrators regarding what Common Core looks like for SLPs would be helpful. As with other issues related to school environment, sometimes school SLPs fall into a gray area because our professional responsibilities and skill sets are different from those of teachers. Because of these differences, it’s important that administrators communicate their Common Core expectations to the staff —such as SLPs and school psychologists—who may not fit neatly within parameters defined for teachers. Furthermore, as the Common Core develops and becomes less nebulous for SLPs, administrators should provide updates during individual or staff meetings.
What are some (if any) of the most pressing challenges you see working with the standards? What have you experienced firsthand?
Not compromising the therapeutic component from our position seems to be the most pressing issue. With so much focus being on classroom academics, it’s important SLPs don’t lose our confidence in what we do. We must recognize—and sometimes defend—our intervention as the communicative bridge to the classroom, which directly or indirectly influences the students’ academic performance. These challenges are really no different from those in previous years during other accountability measures. For school SLPs, it’s become instinctual to always have the communicative-academic connection in the back of our minds, and with introduction of the Common Core, our approach will be no different.
What are some of the opportunities presented by the Common Core?
It has created even more opportunities for SLPs to illustrate the effect their intervention has on the classroom. I believe the standards allow for more distinct, identifiable communicative-academic targets, which will only strengthen the justification for constantly having SLPs connected to the classrooms. SLPs also have more opportunities to provide their insight during staff development and how our expertise can augment classroom learning through the communicative-academic connection. Experienced teachers will be reminded of all the terrific ways we link the students’ communication efforts to the classroom, and new teachers will be impressed with how much of a support system they can access in their own school.
Has the Common Core changed the way you work day-to-day? Has it changed the way you collaborate with your team?
It has not really changed the way I provide intervention or collaborate with my team. The focus has always been on improving students’ communication abilities, so they are more successful in the classroom. Overall, I see the standards as a better opportunity for SLPs to share how significant our impact can be on the classroom. The Common Core is embedded with student skills we touch on every day. It is up to us to remind the staff—and at times, ourselves—that we are an integral part of the standards process. Each school year brings new teachers and administrators, many of whom are not familiar with exactly what we do as SLPs. Use this opportunity to illustrate for coworkers how vital SLPs are to our schools, not necessarily to justify what we do, but to illuminate how far our treatment pervades academic performance.
Michael Maykish, MA, CCC-SLP
Setting: Belville Elementary School, a Title I school in Brunswick County Schools, Leland, North Carolina
Population: 800 students in a diverse, mostly suburban, but somewhat rural/agricultural county.
Stage of Common Core adoption: Entering the third full year of adoption, which happened in the 2012–2013 school year (though rescinded at the state level, the Common Core is in place for now while new standards are developed—see the introduction).
What type of communication and/or training have you received and what was the source?
I came into the schools in 2011–2012 after receiving my master’s degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. At this time, the writing was on the wall about the switch to the Common Core and, thankfully, we had talked about it during our coursework. So I already felt I had somewhat of a leg up because I was already working on the new curriculum and did not need to relearn anything. There also were mandatory trainings at the county and school levels about the switch.
Do you need more? What would be helpful?
More trainings? Not really, but more time within the day to collaborate with teachers about how to unpack the standards for the students on my caseload would be great. I feel like there are so many “speechy-languagy” things within the Common Core, there is lots of opportunity for collaboration and push-in service delivery, where I could potentially help to scaffold the lesson for students on my caseload, while keeping them in their general education setting.
What are some (if any) of the most pressing challenges you see working with the standards? What have you experienced firsthand?
Particularly recently, maybe in the past three to six months, the Common Core has become almost a curse word for parents and (some) teachers. In meetings, I sometimes feel like I am dealing with “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” from Harry Potter, and hesitate to bring it up since it often elicits grumbles of, “Are you teaching that Common Core stuff?” from parents who have seen a viral video on Facebook that points out the “ridiculousness” of the standards. I feel like it has gotten a bad rap before it has even really been given a chance to be successful. The teachers are still learning the standards and are trying to adapt materials as fast as they can. The game of catch-up has been the most difficult part of the Common Core.
What are some of the opportunities presented by the standards?
There are clear, obvious ways to connect speech and language skills and goals to the Common Core. It also clearly defines our role. Why are we working with these students? So they can access their education. Well, what does a communication disorder have to do with accessing their education? Look, for example, at CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.6, the kindergarten English language arts standards for speaking and listening, which say students should speak audibly and express thoughts, feelings and ideas clearly. If a student can’t speak audibly and clearly to express ideas due to a communication disorder, there is a clear connection to why the student needs speech services in the schools. I can find many other similar connections in all of our disorder areas.
Has the Common Core changed the way you work day-to-day? Has it changed the way you collaborate with your team?
Not really. It’s what I started with and it’s what I am working with. I have provided literacy-based phonological awareness lessons in the kindergarten classrooms. The teachers selected a story or a theme, and I designed and taught an activity to match. I also have provided—with occupational and physical therapists—collaborative standards-based literacy lessons for students in our self-contained classrooms. In the future, I would like to do more theme-based units with students on my caseload in concert with a classroom teacher.
Lynn Ruthenbeck, MA, CCC-SLP
Setting: P21 high school (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, which advocates for 21st-century readiness for every student) in Anaheim, California
Population: 2,123 students: 68 percent in the free/reduced meal program, 35 percent English-learners, 10 percent with disabilities, 71 percent Hispanic, 12 percent white, 7 percent Asian, 5 percent African American, 4 percent Filipino, 1 percent Pacific Islander.
Stage of Common Core adoption: Pre-adoption, transition to complete adoption: teachers are observing standards-aligned instruction and redesigning lessons. An appointed group of SLPs is developing sample standards-aligned goals and materials.
What type of communication and/or training have you received and what was the source?
The district has provided presentations at the district campus and at school sites. Our county department of education held a Common Core workshop for SLPs in my district, which introduced terminology, addressed the impact on assessment and IEP development, and discussed strategies and resources for implementation.
Do you need more? What would be helpful?
At this point, I feel that we are in a good place in the transition phase. We continue to take steps to ready ourselves for the next phase, which will fully align curriculum, instruction and assessment. One thing the SLPs need is more time to work as a full group to go through the language arts and literacy standards. It would be nice to have a group of people to brainstorm and discuss ideas on how to better support our students and teachers.
What are some (if any) of the most pressing challenges you see working with the standards? What have you experienced firsthand?
I think that flexibility and training will be key challenges. Change can be hard, especially when suggesting changes in instructional strategies. However, I have seen many teachers modify their instruction to embrace habits of mind and increase communication and collaboration in their classrooms. Habits of mind skills are not specifically in the standards, but are important skills and strategies embedded in the standards. It is believed that as students progress through the Common Core, they will become more adept at demonstrating habits of mind characteristics, which will increase their learning and achievement. In language arts, these characteristics include the ability to demonstrate independence; build strong content knowledge; respond to varying demands of audience, task, purpose and discipline; comprehend as well as critique; value evidence; use technology and digital media strategically and capably; and understand other perspectives and cultures.
In California, teacher instructional strategies are included in the Common Core to engage students in habits of mind practices. SLPs also need to incorporate these strategies. Communication and collaboration are important components of the standards. SLPs have worked to support our students in these areas, but carryover can be a challenge for some of our students with language impairments who prefer to be passive in their classrooms. In addition, our students with social language and pragmatic impairments might have difficulty with the increased demands of group collaboration. SLPs who can collaborate in secondary-level general education classrooms have the opportunity to play a vital role in demonstrating and reinforcing language skills needed for success in the classroom.
At my workplace, I have observed both skepticism and optimism about Common Core. Continued training and release time for team collaboration will be important in the next phase of implementation. Working hard for all of our students to be college- and career-ready has been a part of the philosophy of my district and school for a long time.
What are some of the opportunities presented by the standards?
For students, it provides different ways to learn through Universal Design for Learning and allows them to demonstrate understanding of the material through collaboration. UDL applies to all students because every student benefits from a variety of instructional methods. It is specifically included in the Common Core when referring to its application to students with disabilities. Our students will have opportunities to look at concepts, learn and express their ideas in a variety of ways. Some of my students have benefited significantly since a history teacher increased collaboration and group projects to demonstrate understanding rather than basing his grading system solely on homework and summative tests. It is important to have high expectations, but they can be intimidating for many of my students. The Common Core aims to increase rigor while giving students a variety of ways to learn and succeed among their peers.
Has the Common Core changed the way you work day-to-day? Has it changed the way you collaborate with your team?
I recently changed how I write students’ goals to address specific standards (mostly in how I word my goals to match the standards). I continue to work on the skills that I have always addressed, such as critical thinking. Working at the secondary level, I am focused on college- and career-readiness for all of my students. I have recently added different types of materials, such as using more informational passages, in my intervention. I have always tried to avoid passages that I consider “boring,” but I have made an effort to find interesting technical and informational passages to help prepare my students for the challenges of the increased rigor in their classes.
So far, it hasn’t changed the way I work with my team, as I already work closely with them. I have been fortunate at my site to have general education teachers with whom I can collaborate on a regular basis. They have allowed me the flexibility to work in their classrooms and also work with our students in small groups (in or outside of the classroom, depending on the lesson or assignment and their needs). As we get closer to full implementation of the Common Core, we will probably collaborate more on IEP goal development. The SLPs in my district will need to determine how we will incorporate Common Core and speech goals, and what this will mean to service delivery.

The Common Core and Auditory Processing

Breakdowns along the auditory processing continuum pose obvious challenges for students in the classroom. An article by audiologist Jeanane M. Ferre, featured recently in ASHA’s Access Audiology online publication, explores how speech-language pathologists and audiologists can provide Common Core-aligned help to students with auditory processing disorder. The same issue points readers to an online article on applying the standards with students with hearing loss.

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September 2014
Volume 19, Issue 9