Are the Common Core State Standards keeping you up at night?

Many parents have concerns about the new education standards and how they’ll impact their child’s education, but if you have a child with learning disabilities, the stakes are even higher. Under the best of circumstances, it can be a struggle to get appropriate services for kids with learning issues. The new standards mean new benchmarks, new approaches to teaching, and — scariest of all — new tests. No wonder parents are concerned!

To find out what the standards will mean for kids with learning issues, we talked to Ben Foss, author of The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan and founder of the website, Headstrong Nation. Here is Foss’s cheat sheet of what parents need to know:

1. Talk to your school — sooner rather than later.

45 states and the District of Columbia are in the process of implementing the new standards, so the first thing you need to do is find out where your state stands. If it has adopted the standards, talk to your child’s classroom teacher, special education teacher, or/and school administrators as soon as possible. Find out how the school plans to approach implementation of the standards, and specifically what this will mean for students with learning disabilities. The standards are brand new and schools and school districts are still working out the kinks, so don’t panic if you don’t get all your questions answered immediately.

Ben Foss on how to start the conversation about Common Core with your child’s school.

2. Make sure your child’s IEP is standards-based.

Talk to your school to make sure that your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) is standards-based — that is, aligned with the Common Core Standards.

If you suspect that your child has a learning issue but he has not been diagnosed, you should get him evaluated immediately, so he will get the support he needs when the new standards are implemented.

Ben Foss emphasizes the importance of the standards-based IEP.

3. Ask for learning accomodations

Your child’s IEP should include specific information on the kinds of accommodations she is entitled to when doing her homework and during tests. 

Ben Foss points out that accomodations may include assistive technologies or other supports.

4. Be your child’s advocate

It’s essential for parents to be persistent to make sure their school addresses their child’s learning needs. Under federal law, schools are required to provide all students “a free and appropriate education,” and it’s up to parents to make sure it happens. Parents, says Foss, “have to be the chief advocate for that process. They have to go in, they have to ask for it and ask for it and ask for it, and really build a relationship with the school to get the accommodations their child needs.”

Be persistent — and patient, because the process may take time, given the many demands schools must juggle as they make the transition to the new standards. At the same time, if it’s evident that the needs of students with learning disabilities are being overlooked, don’t hesitate to talk to school administrators — and even to the school district or school board, if that doesn’t work.

According to Ben Foss, there’s still a lot we don’t know about how the new education standards will impact kids with learning disabilities — and there’s still a lot of work to do.

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Updated: February 5, 2016