When children with visual impairments are referred for testing to determine eligibility in programs for talented and gifted (TAG) students, assessment personnel and members of the selection committee are often faced with the same challenges as those which are associated with individual assessment for eligibility purposes. That is, typical test batteries contain instruments or test items which are visual in nature or which require a rich background in visual learning experiences.
In regards to standardized testing which is usually required as part of qualifying criteria for placing students in TAG programs, there are no standardized intelligence or academic achievement tests which are developed or normed on the visually impaired population. We are therefore forced to use tests that can be adapted for the visually impaired and then must interpret results with a great deal of caution. As with any other student, test scores should not be the sole determining factor in selecting students for TAG programs, and samples of school work, examples of giftedness, and other informal or subjective measures of creativity must be used. Statements from teachers and parents or other persons who know the child well should also be used.
If a TAG selection committee chooses to insist on a standardized measure of intelligence and achievement, one might consider administering the Verbal portion of the Wechsler scales and then interpret results with caution. For example, some students who are very verbal may appear to have above average abilities when, in fact, they may be bright but not necessarily "gifted". Again, there must be other measures or evidence that the child is truly talented or has unusually advanced problem solving and abstract thinking ability, in contrast to those children who are simply "good" with language.
The availability of standardized group and individual achievement tests in Braille and large print is limited. Additionally, test subjects who use Braille must be fluent with the grade II Braille code. Therefore, if a student does not yet know the entire code, that test would not be usable for that student. Administering the test verbally to the student would also not be valid in that one would be evaluating oral comprehension skills rather than academic levels. The assessor can check the American Printing House for the Blind's website at www.aph.org to find out which current tests are available in Braille.
Regardless of whether or not the student is selected for a TAG program, one should consider several factors that influence the degree to which a student can compete fairly with his sighted peers in the classroom:
- If the program requires a great deal of reading and writing, and the student does not yet have an efficient reading and writing medium, what kind of adaptations will be made so that the student will not be excluded from required activities?
- If programs use materials that are not contained in State adopted textbooks, how will those materials be made accessible for the student with a visual impairment?
- Can the student be provided the necessary technology to produce written work, and if the technology is available, will this "automatically" make the student independent, or will other types of support be necessary? Will the student need additional technology training? The mere provision of state of the art equipment does not necessarily solve the problems of equal access or eliminate the need for support services.
If there are a great deal of visual aids and visual experiences in the daily activities of the program, how will those activities need to be adapted so that the student does not miss out on important information? At the very least, some degree of consultation from a teacher of the visually impaired would seem warranted in these circumstances. Assistance from such an individual might also prove to be useful in determining which skills or behaviors the child exhibits are "normal" and which are truly out of the ordinary.