Process of Alternate Standard Development
The Alternate Academic Content Standards for Students with the most significant cognitive disabilities were developed with the input of numerous stakeholders, including Pennsylvania teachers and administrators responsible for educating students with significant cognitive disabilities, college and university faculty responsible for teacher preparation and research related to the education of this population of students, and college and university faculty who are experts in the areas of reading and mathematics education.
The standards were developed in accordance with the following guiding principles.
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The standards had to address the attainment of academic skills, as required by No Child Left Behind.
Critical areas of skill development for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities often include the acquisition of basic motor and communication skills, however, the federal requirement related to access to the general education curriculum and statewide assessment was to develop and assess students on academic standards.
The standards had to be based on the same content areas as those assessed by the PSSA, which are reading and mathematics.
While the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has developed academic standards in the areas of Listening and Speaking, which include communication skills, the federal requirement is that the assessments be on the same areas that are assessed for the general population of students.
The standards had to be based on skills that are considered to be valid reading, mathematics and science, skills.
There are no generally agreed upon definitions of "reading" , "mathematics" and "science", for students with the most significant disabilities. To assure that skills included in the alternate standards were, in fact, those considered to be reading, mathematics and science, subject matter experts were asked to review and validate the proposed content of the alternate standards.
The alternate standards must specify reading, mathematics and science, skills that are relevant and meaningful for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities at the present time and in the future.
Not all skills considered to be reading, mathematics and science, skills would be considered to be important to the daily life functioning of individuals with the most significant cognitive disabilities. For example, one of the PA Chapter 4 Reading Standards is as follows:
- Read and understand essential content of informational texts and documents in all academic areas.
- Evaluat[ing] text organization and content to determine the author's purpose and effectiveness according to the author's theses, accuracy, thoroughness, logic and reasoning.
- A benchmark is:
The alternate standards must address reading, mathematic and science, skills for the population of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who are a very small, but very heterogeneous population of students.
This population of students includes some who have very little volitional control of motor movements; some who have great difficulty with discriminating differences between very different stimuli; and some who at 11th grade can read functional text written at an approximately 4th grade reading level and understand concepts of multiplication, division, and fractions. The alternate standards include valid reading, mathematic and science, skills for all of these students.
The standards must follow a logical progression of skill development, which does not necessarily follow a typical, nor strictly developmental, sequence.
Typically, students first learn to recite the letters of the alphabet prior to or simultaneous with learning to read. Given the learning characteristics of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, experts have frequently questioned the necessity of teaching students to recite the alphabet since, it is knowledge of the sounds the letters make and not the names of the letters that is relevant to reading. The alternate standards specify a logical progression of reading and mathematics skills but do not include some skills that might be observed in typically developing children.
With these guidelines in mind, the Pennsylvania Standards in reading and mathematics (22 PA Code Â§ 4.12.) were reinterpreted in ways that would make them more meaningful and relevant for students with the most severe cognitive disabilities. First, the essence of each standard was identified. Then, in conjunction with subject matter experts and experts in the education of students with severe disabilities, several different areas associated with the essence were identified.