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Blind students with white canes waiting to cross Congress Avenue, a busy six lane road.

Marnee Loftin, TSBVI Psychologist

Prior to beginning the assessment, Texas regulations require that consultation between the teacher of the visually impaired and assessment professional must occur. Oftentimes it is difficult to make this consultation a meaningful process. Both groups are highly trained professionals, but generally the base of information will vary tremendously between these two groups. It is unlikely that assessment staff in a public school will have much experience or information about the special issues associated with students with visual impairments. Training in assessment of special education students is likely to focus upon those disabilities that occur at a much higher incidence, such as mental retardation or emotional disturbance. Conversely, the teacher of the visually impaired may have a great deal of information about criterion-referenced assessment, but little information about standardized testing procedures. Recommendations for modifications must be tempered with knowledge regarding what modifications would be inappropriate within the standards for assessment.

To assist in making the consultation process a meaningful one, it is important that information be provided in a consistent manner. For each student that is being assessed, it is important that the teacher of the visually impaired provide specific information in the following areas:

BASIC INFORMATION ABOUT THE VISUAL CONDITION AND MODIFICATIONS

  • An overview of the visual condition and specific educational implications 
  • A copy and discussion of the most recent functional vision and low vision reports 
  • Specific suggestions for modification of the testing environment 
  • Any low vision aides or adaptive devices that are required 
  • The learning media assessment

This information is certainly available in a variety of reports found in the student's folder. However, a brief discussion is critical to ensure clear understanding of this information as well as the way in which it impacts assessment.

In addition to the information about the specific student, there is general information regarding interpretation of test results for students with visual impairments will be of benefit to the assessment professional. Future information to be on the Website will give more information about interpretation.

AREAS OF CONCERN

Three issues often emerge as most problematic during these consultations. Misunderstanding can result in over-identification of additional disabilities, inappropriate administration of standardized tests, and inadequate recommendations for an individual educational plan. These issues are lack of understanding about unique developmental patterns of students with congenital blindness, confusion about the needs of a student with low vision, and decisions about modifications of testing materials and procedures.

UNIQUE DEVELOPMENTAL PATTERNS OF STUDENTS WITH CONGENITAL BLINDNESS

Assessment staff who do not work regularly with young children with congenital blindness are often overwhelmed by many of their behaviors. The echolalic language, self-stimulatory behaviors, and egocentricity of their interpersonal skills are not seen as a part of the developmental process. It is more often seen as of diagnostic significance in determining the presence of pervasive developmental disorders. It is important that the assessment professional see this as a frequent concomitant to blindness particularly when accompanied by other disabilities or in very young children with severe visual impairments. Such behaviors should be noted and techniques should be recommended to deal with these behaviors. However, great caution should be used in identifying autism/pervasive developmental disorders as a separate disability. Prior to working with a young child who exhibits these behaviors, it is important that the teacher of the visually impaired stress that these behaviors are frequently seen in the young child with congenital blindness. Certainly some students with visual impairment also exhibit a type of Pervasive Developmental Disorder. This must be ascertained as a result of multiple assessments and observations rather than during a single evaluation. However, it is critical that this be a discussion during the initial consultation rather than a disagreement after assessment is completed.

MISUNDERSTANDING REGARDING THE NATURE OF LOW VISION

Low vision and the accompanying difficulties associated with it may be one of the most difficult concepts for people outside of the vision field to understand. To some extent this is because vision is seen as a process of either being " able to see something" or "not being able to see something." Problems such as field losses, visual efficiency, visual fatigue, problems with figure-ground relationships are often not considered. Therefore assessment staff may make a decision that a student is able to "see well enough" to complete certain items on a test. The student may, in fact, have the ability to see some of the items...on some of the occasions...for some of the time! However, the efficiency of the visual processing of information becomes the overwhelming task during the assessment. Conclusions that can be drawn about other aspects of the assessment become increasingly tentative as the struggle to efficiently perform becomes more critical for the student.

Thus it is important that the visual efficiency factor be carefully considered in choosing a test. The teacher of the visually impaired should stress that the behaviors observed on a playground or even in performing a few items on the Block Design subtest of the WISC may not necessarily be a good indicator of performance in other areas. Any instrument that is visually based should be administered with caution only if absolutely necessary. Clinical reporting of performance rather than actual use of scores always is a more functional use of these types of instruments.

MODIFICATIONS OF INSTRUMENTS

Each child with a visual impairment is legally entitled to each modification specified by the ARD Committee. The modifications must be made during the instructional day as well as during any assessment. On the surface the decision regarding modifications seems to be an easy task that could be accomplished through a simple review of the folder. However the task is much more complex and involves clear consideration of the following variables:

  • What is the purpose of the assessment
  • How will the assessment data be used
  • What individual issues for the student should be considered

REVIEW THE PURPOSE OF THE ASSESSMENT 

We generally think of assessments in a very general manner. They are seen as a means for assisting in "developing the individual educational program" for a child. Within this general framework, there are a number of different purposes. We may want to determine "how well a child is reading" but our concerns may focus a variety of skills used in reading. For example, our concerns may focus upon exploring their sight vocabulary, determining the speed at which they are reading, determining the comprehension level in different content areas or any other number of variables. Our recommendations for the modifications in the assessment process must begin with a careful look at our purpose. Unfortunately, in some instances, the modification specified by the ARD Committee will impact our ability to measure the area of concern.

Some modifications will, in fact, make a particular type of assessment meaningless. For example, a student may be an auditory learner and use oral instructions in the classroom.. A measure of the student's comprehension of concepts in social studies could be conducted orally. However, a measure of reading skills could not be conducted according to these specific modifications. A portion of reading abilities, i.e. comprehension could be measured in such a manner and remain meaningful. The other areas of reading skills would be invalid information if such modifications were made. In cases where invalid information would be gathered, it is always more appropriate to exempt a student from a particular assessment.

REVIEW THE WAY IN WHICH THE ASSESSMENT DATA WILL BE USED

Individual assessments have not only a specific purpose. They also often have a specific way in which they will be used. For example, information from an assessment of reading skills may be used as a source of data regarding whether a student should be served in a content mastery class or in a regular classroom with support. This should also be considered in determining the modifications. If the primary concern is to determine an approximate grade level of reading for instruction, an untimed test is highly appropriate. However, if the purpose is to determine if the student can be served in a regular classroom, some realistic limitations of time should be imposed. All members of the ARD Committee should realize that some statement of "outer limits" of time for task completion is a powerful means of determining efficiency. This is a critical factor in determining supports needed for an individual student as well as classroom placement. If statements of outer limits of time and smaller numbers of time will result in an invalid test, then it is likely most appropriate that the students be exempted from this test.

INDIVIDUAL ISSUES

In some instances, it is simply most reasonable that the student be exempted from certain tests because of individual issues that are present at that time. This is most likely seen when a student is making a change of mediums. It is certainly much more appropriate that these students be assessed in future years once they have mastered the new medium. However, it is important that realistic expectations be developed for a time frame for such mastery. Continuing exemptions year after year because of changes in mediums is inappropriate.