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Changes to Common Core math curriculum aid students with disabilities

Paul Riccomini, associate professor of special education and coordinator of the special education program at Penn State, is part of a consortium of educators making Common Core curricula more accessible for students with disabilities.
Changes to Common Core math curriculum aid students with disabilities

Paul Riccomini

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Students with disabilities attending public schools in New York will have a greater opportunity to succeed with Common Core math thanks to the work of Paul Riccomini, associate professor of special education and coordinator of the special education program at Penn State.

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Paul Riccomini, associate professor of special education and coordinator of the special education program

After the New York State Education Department (NYSED) adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, EngageNY was created to help public school teachers implement the standards in K-12 classrooms. The site provides educational resources, including lesson plans, modules and assessments, for the official curriculum of New York public schools.

“When teachers started implementing the Engage New York material, they began to see that students with disabilities were really struggling,” Riccomini said.

To address those struggles, NYSED contracted with a consortium of education specialists that included Riccomini, who served as the team leader for mathematics; Annemarie Urso of SUNY Geneseo, team leader for English language arts; and Dawn Hamlin of SUNY Oneonta. The consortium worked collectively to develop scaffolds, or instructional approaches to implementing curriculum, to improve the educational outcomes and assessments of students with disabilities in these content areas.

The scaffolds can vary among different subjects and from grade to grade and can include strategies such as pre-teaching vocabulary, using a graphic organizer in the classroom or breaking down content into smaller portions. The key is to find what works best for a particular group of students, Riccomini said.

To meet the needs of students with disabilities struggling with math, Riccomini created scaffolds that fell into five categories: guided notes, cooperative learning activities, backward chaining, instructional technology and instructional warm-ups. All scaffolds were written for elementary, middle and high school curricula.

“Kids with disabilities need to have not just access to the general curriculum, but also the opportunity to experience success in the general curriculum,” he said, adding that more than one-third of all students — those with and without disabilities — struggle in math. “The scaffolds are not necessarily limited for kids with disabilities. They can be used by many types of learners, any kid that struggles.”

“We scaffolded more than 120 modules, 71 of which were for math,” Riccomini said, noting that the remaining modules covered English language arts curriculum.

The project was completed and submitted to NYSED in August. Once approved, the modules will be available to New York educators via the EngageNY website to assist with the implementation of Common Core curriculum.

By Jessica Buterbaugh (November 2015)