What Is the Concept of Regular Education?

How it relates to Common Core State Standards and testing

A girl looks out of a classroom window

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"Regular education" is the term often used to describe the educational experience of typically developing children. The content of this curriculum is defined in most states by state standards, many of which have adopted the Common Core State Standards. These standards define the academic skills that students should acquire at each grade level. This is the Free and Appropriate Public Education against which the program of a student who receives special education is evaluated.

In contrast, "general education" is used interchangeably with "regular education but is preferred, as it is politically correct to speak of "general education students" as opposed to "regular education students". "Regular" implies that special education students are irregular, or somehow flawed. While it's the curriculum designed for all children which are meant to meet state standards (or if adopted, the Common Core State Standards), the General Education program is also the program which the state's annual test — required by NCLB (No Child Left Behind) — is designed to evaluate. 

Regular Education and Special Education

To provide FAPE for special education students, IEP goals should be "aligned" with the Common Core State Standards. In other words, they should show that a student is being taught to standard. In some cases, with children whose disabilities are severe, IEP's will reflect a more "functional" program, which will be very loosely aligned with the Common Core State Standards, rather than directly linked to specific grade-level standards. These students are most often in self-contained programs, and they are also the most likely to be part of the three percent of students allowed to take an alternate test.

Unless students are in the most restrictive environments, they will spend some time in the regular education environment. Often, children in self-contained programs will participate in "specials" such as physical education, art, and music with students in the regular/general education programs. When assessing the amount of time spent in regular education (part of the IEP report) time spent with typical students in the lunchroom and on the playground for recess is also credited as time in the "general education" environment. 

How Testing Impacts General Ed

Until more states eliminate testing, participation in high-stakes state tests aligned to the standards is required of special education students. This is meant to reflect how the students perform alongside their regular education peers. States are also permitted to require that students with severe disabilities are offered an alternate assessment, which should address the state standards. These are required by federal law, in the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and IDEIA. Only 1 percent of all students are allowed to take an alternate test, and this should represent 3 percent of all students receiving special education services.