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Assessment Of Learning Disabilities In Students With Visual Impairment

Introduction:

  • Overview of Visual Impairment and Influence on Learning and Development
  • Eligibility Criteria for Visual Impairment
  • Eligibility Criteria for Learning Disability
  • Importance of Determining Learning Disabilities in a Student with Visual Impairment
  • Specific Cautions before Beginning the Process

Intellectual Assessments:

  • Choosing an Appropriate Instrument
  • Interpreting Results with an Understanding of the Visual Impairment

Background And Educational Experiences

Educational Assessment

  • Consulting with the Teacher of the Visually Impaired
  • Choosing an Appropriate Instrument

Documenting Results Of Assessment


Issues That May Impact Learning and Development of the Student with a Visual Impairment

For The Young Child With A Visual Impairment

  • Delayed motor milestones
  • Echolalic speech
  • Hesitancy in exploration and initiation
  • Excellent expressive vocabulary but limited receptive skills
  • Misuse of pronouns

For The Older Student With A Visual Impairment

  • Tangential or egocentric conversations
  • Focusing upon isolated parts of a whole
  • Egocentric problem solving strategies
  • Difficulty in applying information to new situations

For The Secondary Student With A Visual Impairment

  • Difficulty with spelling (particularly with Braille readers)
  • Over-identification with adults
  • Difficulty in initiating and maintaining peer interactions
  • Tendency to be passive in problem solving

Loftin
TSBVI, 1995


Visual Impairment is NOT a Single Condition

Congenital - (Prior to age of 18 months)

Acquired - (After age of 18 months)

No Vision

(Braille/Tactile learner)

Most Severe,
Most Modifications

Examples include: Anopthalmia

Less Severe,
Fewer Modifications

Examples include:Traumatic brain injury

   

Low Vision

(Print learner)

Less Severe,
Fewer Modifications

Examples include: Albinism

Less Severe,
Fewer Modifications

Examples include: Progressive myopia

Approximately 75% of visual impairments result from some problem with aspects of the central nervous system.

Examples include retinopathy of prematurity, optic atrophy, optic nerve hypoplasia, septo-optic dysplasia, traumatic brain injury

Approximately 25% of visual impairments result from a "mechanical" problem of the eye.

Examples are glaucoma, congenital cataracts, colobomas, aniridia, progressive myopia

Some types of visual impairments include both problems with the central nervous system and mechanical problems of the eye. Example is congenital rubella

The most frequent causes of visual impairment for children are retinopathy of prematurity, optic nerve hypoplasia, and cortical visual impairment

Approximately 60-70% of children with visual impairments will ultimately be diaPgnosed as having a secondary disability.

This process is important for a number of reasons including development of an appropriate individual educational plan as well as identifying adult service delivery systems.

The best source of information regarding a particular visual impairment is usually the Functional Vision/Learning Medium Assessment.

Loftin/ Bulla 2001


Consultation Between VI And Assessment Staff

Obtain Basic Information About The Visual Condition And Modifications Through Review Of

  • The visual condition and specific educational implications
  • The most recent functional vision and low vision reports
  • Specific suggestions for modification of the testing environment
  • Recommendations for low vision devices or adaptive devices that are required
  • The learning media assessment

Discuss Areas Of Concern That Often Emerge Such As:

  • overidentification of additional disabilities such as autism
  • inappropriate administration of standardized tests
  • inadequate recommendations for an individual educational plan.

Discuss Unique Developmental Patterns Of Students With Congenital Blindness

Clarify Misunderstanding Regarding The Nature Of Low Vision

Review Modifications Of Instruments By Discussing

  • Purpose of the assessment
  • How will the assessment data be used
  • Individual issues for the student should be considered

Review The Purpose Of The Assessment

Review The Way In Which The Assessment Data Will Be Used

Review Issues Related To Individual Students


Determination of Learning Disabilities in a Student With a Visual Impairment

Determine Current Level of Intellectual Abilities

  • Testing is current within the past 12 months.
  • Testing reflects all adaptations and modifications that are considered to be appropriate for students with blindness or visual impairments.
  • Results of testing reflect the scatter of skills in particular cognitive areas that are typical for any student with a learning disability. Specific strengths as well as weaknesses should be apparent upon reviewing the profile.
  • Results reflect a level of performance that seems to be with observation of student in a variety of settings.

Determine That Educational Experiences Have Been Appropriate

  • School records indicate that the student has attended school regularly, i.e. excessive absences have not been noted because of health concerns such as surgeries, treatments, etc.
  • ARD Committee determines that the student has received appropriate and adequate instruction in techniques specified in a current (within 12 month) Functional Vision/LMA.
  • No data suggest that other disabilities such as emotional disturbance, autism/pervasive developmental disorders, or mental retardation are contributing to the difficulties in learning.
  • School records indicate a consistent pattern of difficulty in specific academic areas over a period of at least two years. These difficulties do not seem to be related to patterns of absence because of illness, change in medium, or significant changes in vision.
  • Patterns of difficulty do not reflect an overall pattern of low achievement in academic areas.

Determine Level of Educational Achievement Using Both Informal And Formal Sources of Information

Informal Sources of Information:

  • Work samples indicate poor independent achievement of academic tasks at the expected level. This difficulty is also manifested in poor completion of homework assignments as well as grades on tests. This pattern is consistent rather than variable from day to day.
  • Observation of the student on at least two occasions in the classroom suggests that the student is attending in class and that the difficulties are not associated with problems in behavior.
  • Observation of the student in the classroom indicates that independent work is difficult regardless of the teacher/student ratio. Performance is improved when the teacher provides additional assistance. However, performance is still significantly below what might be expected.
  • Review of student portfolio/work samples suggests problems in basic organizational skills that is often associated with learning disabilities as well as confirms the difficulty in independent completion of activities in the specific academic area.

Standardized Assessment:

If available, information from standardized assessment confirms difficulty with a specific academic area. Again, assurances should confirm that all recommended modifications were in place when testing occurred.

Individual Educational Assessment

In contrast to traditional methods of determining learning disabilities, no single academic test is available that will adequately assess academic skills of a student with visual impairments. In addition, the problems of determining learning disabilities prior to Grade 3 are compounded in the visually impaired. The reliance on visual stimuli in virtually all academic measures prior to Grade 3 makes these tests inappropriate for young students with visual impairments.

It is recommended that any testing to determine the presence of learning disabilities in a student with visual impairments occurs no sooner than the fourth grade.

This ensures an adequate basis of educational experiences, as well as training in disability-specific skills. It also increases the range of educational instruments that can be used to measure academic skills that are of concern.

Prior to testing of academic skills, the assessment professional should consult with the teacher of the visually impaired to determine specific procedures for assessment. The assessment professional must administer an individual intelligence test at the time of testing for learning disabilities. Modifications must be made in procedures as recommended in earlier materials.

Selection of an instrument for assessment of educational performance should be based upon the specific area of concern. As specified by the IDEA, these concerns include oral expression, listening comprehension, written comprehension, basic reading skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, and mathematics reasoning.

Selection of the specific instrument for instruction should be a joint decision between the assessment professional and the teacher of the visually impaired. This decision must consider the age and current performance level of the student, visual efficiency and acuity of the student, and recommended medium and modifications. At that time the two professionals should determine the extent to which the teacher of the visually impaired should be involved in the assessment process. For example, the teacher of the visually impaired should be responsible for administration and scoring of the Writing subtests for any Braille reader. Determination of responsible persons for other academic areas can be based upon mutual consensus between the two.

Instruments that have subtests that have proved most efficient for measuring educational skills include portions of the Woodcock-Johnson Test of Achievement (III) Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, and Diagnostic Achievement Battery. Although each of these tests have subtests that are inappropriate for the student with a visual impairment, each test also has subtests that yield important information. Please see Attachment A for specific information about each of the tests and subtests. When this is supplemented with other information as described above, an ARD Committee is able to make a decision regarding the presence of a learning disability in a student with a visual impairment.

Assessment for a learning disability in a student with a visual impairment is a difficult task. However, it is also an important one that can be accomplished with a strong multi-disciplinary team approach. The process is more time consuming than the more typical discrepancy model that is used with most students who have a learning disability. For the student who continues to struggle with academic tasks in spite of multiple modifications for visual impairments as well as strong support from a VI teacher, this seems to be an effort that is well-worth the time involved.

Suggested Summary Statement

On the basis of this evaluation, the ARD Committee determines that there is a significant discrepancy between intelligence and educational performance of this student. Although the student is visually impaired, this disability is not the primary cause of the disability in learning. Information from the record indicates that appropriate modifications for visual impairment have been consistently made. It also indicates that a teacher of the visually impaired has provided educational services as recommended by the ARD Committee and was in agreement with the need for additional testing.

A review of the record as well as individual student work samples indicates that the difficulties have been present for at least two school years. Additional remedial efforts have not been successful in decreasing these academic problems.

Direct observation of the student does not indicate that the student is experiencing difficulty because of inability to attend or emotional/behavioral difficulties. Further the observation suggests that all recommended modifications are being implemented in the classroom.

Based upon the review of record, the intellectual assessment of (date), review of the following work samples (list), and educational assessments of (date), the ARD Committee determines that the student meets the eligibility criteria for learning disabled.

Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Marnee Loftin, M.A. and Nanette Bulla, M.Ed.
October 2001


Process For Determining and Documenting Learning Disabilities In Students With Visual Impairments

Determine Intellectual Ability

  • Current within 12 months
  • Reflects appropriate VI modifications and adaptations
  • Reflects specific pattern of strengths and weaknesses on subtests
  • Results are consistent with observations of student

Review Appropriateness of Educational Experiences

  • Regular school attendance
  • Instruction consistent with modifications in Functional Vision/LMA
  • No data suggesting presence of other disabilities such as mental retardation
  • Consistent pattern of difficulty in academic areas for at least two years that do not seem to be related to change in vision or medium
  • Academic difficulties do not reflect an overall pattern of low achievement

Determine Level of Educational Performance

Informal Methods:

  • Work samples, homework, grades on tests
  • Observation in classroom to determine level of attention to academic tasks
  • Observation to determine level of independent task completion
  • Observation of organizational skills

Formal Educational Assessment

  • Standardized assessment confirms difficulty with an academic area
  • Modifications in assessment procedures have been made in consultation with the teacher of the visually impaired
  • Selection of instrument(s) are determined by area of concern
  • Selection of the instrument(s) are made in consultation with the teacher of the visually impaired
  • Consensus should be reached regarding the role of the teacher of the visually impaired in the educational assessment process
  • Specific recommendations for appropriate instruments are provided in the additional materials.
  • Multidisciplinary assessment

Suggestions for Reporting of Intelligence Quotients for Students with Visual Impairments

  • IQ scores should be reported as a range
  • Cautionary statements should be included
  • Appropriate modifications
  • Supplement with direct observation
  • Base recommendations on multiple sources of data
  • Limit use of instruments that focus upon visual spatial skills

Things I Did Not Learn In Psychology

  • Every student with a visual impairment will not benefit from Braille instruction or use of a cane for mobility
  • Constant verbal interaction may not be the most effective strategy in teaching or assessing the student with a visual impairment
  • Motor milestones tend to be delayed for children with visual impairments
  • Normal language development of children with severe visual impairments often includes period of echolalia and confusion of pronouns
  • Estimates suggest that approximately 60% of students with visual impairments will have some type of difficulty with learning, ranging from mild learning disabilities to mental retardation
  • Social skills often require direct instruction because of the lack of opportunities for incidental learning through visual channels
  • Use of assessment techniques that focus upon visual tasks is highly questionable even for the student with low vision
  • It is not unusual for a student with visual impairment to have a large vocabulary but quite limited understanding of the meaning of the words
  • Scores on the Wechsler scales tend to change dramatically at two ages. The first is a drop at age nine likely because of the difficulty experienced in developing abstract reasoning skills. The second is an increase when the change is made from the WISC to the WAIS. This is likely the result of the inclusion of the Digit Span and the splinter skill of short-term memory observed in many students.
  • Many students are quite resistant to using devicesthat are helpful but that identify them as being visually impaired
  • Specific issues associated with assessment and interpretation of results will depend upon the degree of vision for a student, etiology, and age of onset.
  • The vision teacher as well as O&M instructor remain the best source of information regarding specific modifications that must be made for the assessment process
  • Change of medium, i.e. from print to Braille is a complex decision that must be made on the basis of a number of variables. Generally this change results only in increased efficiency in learning. Seldom does it result in more effective learning
  • Specific problems such as reversals in letters that occur in print are quite likely to occur if a change is made to Braille
  • In determining the extent of modifications in the assessment process, a critical consideration is the purpose for the assessment
  • Visual acuities don't tell the whole story Loftin 1998

Commonly-Used Instruments For Assessing Educational Performance And Appropriateness For Students With Visual Impairments

Please note that the teacher of the individual student is generally the best source of information regarding the appropriateness of standardized educational measures. The following is an overview of the perceived appropriateness of individual subtests for determining specific learning disabilities. Please use this information as a basis for discussion with the teacher of the student you are assessing.

Commonly-Used Instruments For Assessing Educational Performance And Appropriateness For Students With Visual Impairments
 

Braille

Large Print

LISTENING COMPREHENSION

   

WJ-III

Story Recall-Delayed

OK

OK

WIAT

Listening Comprehension

NA

NA

DAB

Characteristics/Story Comprehension

OK

OK

WRITTEN EXPRESSION

   

WJ-III

Written Expression

NA

Consult with Teacher

WIAT

Written Expression

OK

OK

DAB

Written Composition/ Capitalization & Punctuation/Spelling

NA

NA

BASIC READING

   

WJ-III

Letter/Word Identification

OK

OK

WIAT

Reading

NA

NA

DAB

Alphabet/Word Knowledge

OK

OK

Gray Oral Reading Test

 

OK

OK

READING COMPREHENSION

   

Johns Reading Inventory

 

OK

OK

WJ-III

Passage Comprehension

NA

NA

WIAT

Reading Comprehension

Start with #9

Start with #9

DAB

Reading Comprehension

OK

OK

MATH CALCULATION

   

WJ-III

Math Calculation

OK

OK

WIAT

Numerical Operations

OK

OK

Key Math - Revised

 

OK

OK

MATH REASONING

   

WJ-III

Applied Problems

NA

NA

WIAT

Math Reasoning

NA

Consult with VI Teacher

DAB

Math Reasoning

NA

Consult with VI Teacher

ORAL EXPRESSION

   

WIAT

Synonyms

NA

NA

DAB

Synonyms/Grammatic Completion

OK

OK