Dyslexia and the Common CoreThe Common Core is a hot topic right now as 43 states and 4 territories have adopted the school standards (see map below).

What does this mean for dyslexic students? The answer is “It depends.” Some of the goals of the Common Core are good – to improve college readiness, to foster deeper knowledge and its application through 21st century skills, and the list goes on. With the addition of high stakes testing, though, that where the greatest concerns lie. Will this hold back students? Will it deny dyslexic students diplomas? These are also legitimate concerns.

First, you can read the standards yourself HERE.

Common Core Adopted in the U.S. (Map)An example of a generally positive report from the frontlines using the Common Core comes from NPR: One classroom teacher summarizes for 3 main Common Core shifts in teaching reading:

  • Regular practice with complex texts
  • Use of evidence in the teaching of reading, writing, and speaking
  • Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction

The teacher in the article talks about the use of a poem entitled The New Colossus for 5th graders:

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand…”

A little crazy, huh?

But then “… a student called out, “It’s a pattern!”  The voice belonged to a girl who was receiving special education services for a learning disability. She had been the first to figure out the rhyme scheme.” And then two boys who didn’t speak English at home recognized it was referring to the Statue of Liberty.

I can really believe this happened, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the girl in special ed were dyslexic. Many dyslexic students are great at recognizing patterns – it’s part of the reason they can comprehend passages much better than their word-by-word decoding. We’ve also heard students tell us that difficult things were easy, while easy things were hard – sometime in the context of interpreting poems, or other times doing something difficult like translating Latin. Also we know that many students are great at logic and reasoning, so we would expect that some of these skills may help them shine at evidence-based reading, writing, and speaking. But on the negative side, is that many of the words can also look like pseudo words to dyslexic 4th graders, and rather than training up a reservoir of common words for students to recognize, we may be submitting students to exhausting strings of rare and archaic words that hamper rather than build a student’s love of reading.

More teaching of Social Studies and Science also suggested ‘pro’s’ of the Common Core approach, but additional potential negatives include eliminating leveled readers and prompts to relate reading to one’s personal experiences ( the latter could be a death knell for highly personal memory learners).

From the ‘con’ side to the Common Core comes this Huffpo post from a teacher who wrote Common Core and the Death of Reading. Complaints include:

  • Curriculum degenerates into constant test prep (“teaching to the test”)
  • Elimination of interest-based reading
  • Destruction of the love of reading through constant test prep

“In Common Core based instruction reading is a mechanical activity that ignores student interest and the primary motivation to learn is your test score…In the fourth grade, Common Core has nine reading literature standards, ten reading informational text standards, two foundational reading skills standards, six language acquisition standards, six speaking and listening standards, as well as “Range, Quality, and Complexity” standards. Lost, if not missing, in the barrage of standards are qualities like imagination, sharing, creating, thinking, or more importantly, enjoying. Asking questions and having conversations are there as activities, but they are not emphasized as the core of understanding.”

There are many aspects of the Common Core that directly impact dyslexic students. The most important caveat is that the curriculum should never be used to hold students back. The program needs to evaluate the impact specifically on dyslexic students and make individualized changes for these students. Dyslexic students should also be able to access to assistive technology whenever they need it for full understanding. It’s a waste of time if the school day makes dyslexic students silently ‘read’ what they are not yet comprehending.

Please share your experiences here (comments below) with Common Core and Dyslexia!

BTW, in a future post, if you’re interested, I’ll post about possible Survival Strategies – like strategies to master facts and reading of complex texts. Regarding the latter, one especially difficult thing for many dyslexic students is the comprehension of complex sentences. Grammar isn’t usually taught in schools, but it’s a skill that many dyslexic students require. Here’s an apparently free book online that may help some. It’s called Visual Grammar (grammar with cartoons).

For more free resources and helps, check out our community here: Dyslexia.Community