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from the Winter 98 issue
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

The National Agenda in Texas

by Cyral Miller, Director of Outreach, TSBVI

The National Agenda is a movement to establish eight goals as standards for programs serving children and youths with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities. These goals have been ratified by many local, regional, and national organizations and now, across the country, there are groups designing action plans to meet state needs.

Here are the goals, and some of the activities that have taken place or are in process so far in Texas. There is a lot more that can be done, and in fact, is already being done. We are actively looking for people who can share what they are doing, and/or have ideas on other or better ways to strengthen Texas' educational programs for blind and visually impaired students and their families. Please contact me, Cyral Miller, at (512) 206-9242 if you would like to be involved in helping move Texas closer to full achievement of these goals by the year 2000! We know that in this state, there is already a fantastic network of services, and many committed people working to provide high quality programming. Together, we are going to make Texas an even better state for children and youth with visual impairments as we work to meet the high standards embodied in the National Agenda.

Goal 1: Students and their families will be referred to an appropriate education program within 30 days of identification of a suspected visual impairment.

As a result of the Agreement Memorandum signed between the Texas Education Agency and the Interagency Council on Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) in 1995, there has been activity in all regions of the state to train ECI case managers and local VI teachers on the proper procedures to ensure that referrals to VI intervention are timely. We do know that the numbers of infants registered as visually impaired between 1995 and 1997 has risen by 22% (based on the TEA VI Registration figures).

Do you know whether these ECI-ISD procedures are effectively catching visually impaired babies within 30 days of suspected visual impairment? Jean Robinson, VI Outreach Family Specialist, is collecting information from parents at TSBVI sponsored workshops, asking them how long it took for their children to be referrred for VI services. Responses indicate that at least for this sample of 20 (so far), services were provided within 60 days. What is happening in your area? How do you ensure timely referrals to intervention? Please call Jean Robinson at (512) 206-9418 to let her know your great ideas and we'll share them widely!

Goal 2: Policies and procedures will be implemented to ensure the right of all parents to full participation and equal partnership in the education process.

Texas has made efforts to ensure that all families, including Spanish speaking and/or blind members, have information about visual impairment and available services in order to fully participate in the educational process. There are state sponsored parent liasons and VI consultants at each ESC and required VI regional plans that must include parent education. We have an exemplary Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) with caseworkers available to support famlies from the first diagnosis of a visual impairment through adult voicational decisions. In the past year, the SEE/HEAR newsletter, jointly produced and distributed by the TSBVI and TCB, is now provided in Spanish, large type, braille, audio cassette, on the WEB, and in disk formats. Specifically for Spanish speaking families with visually impaired children, a new networking effort is being launched at TSBVI, with TCB partnership, to help these families find peers across the state. Jean Robinson has been leading this effort. Please help us expand this network with the enclosed fliers.

The TSBVI and TCB agencies, and ESC VI Consultants and VI teachers all across the state, collaborate with family support groups, like DBMAT, PATH, and NAPVI chapters, in the provision of training and travel support. However, it is clear that for policies and procedures to be effective in real life, there must be mutual sharing of information between families and school systems.

What else can be done to empower families? Please call or write Jean Robinson with your ideas, on what you have done in your region or what you wish to see happening.

Goal 3: Universities, with a minimum of one full-time faculty member in the area of visual impairment, will prepare a sufficient number of educators of students with visual impairments to meet personnel needs throughout the country.

There has been lots of hard work and exciting progress in the area of personnel preparation within this state. Members of universities, VI consultants from the regional education service centers, parents, Texas Education Agency staff, and the TSBVI are all actively involved in creating a coordinated, accessible system of personnel preparation. There is a full time coordinator, KC Dignan, assigned to this project. Coordinated curriculum, standardized university course offerings, and statewide collaboration will enhance all models of teacher development programs. We are hopeful that by this summer, coursework will be offered on the TSBVI campus each summer leading to VI and/or O&M certification. The collaborative group is designing new models of teacher preparation using distance education strategies to make obtaining certification more accessible across the state. Coordinated curriculum will help ensure consistent quality of information presented within VI teacher and O&M instructor preparation programs. If you have creative ideas, or would like to become involved in this project, please contact KC Dignan at (512) 206-9156.

Goal 4: Service providers will determine caseloads based on the needs of students and will require ongoing professional development for all teachers and orientation and mobility instructors.

Caseload size is fundamental to providing quality services. When there are too many students to serve, the needs of those students must take second place to available time, and quality standards are impossible to attain. There is an active committee researching current caseloads of VI professionals in the state to develop some valid baseline data on the Texas reality in this goal area. Results will hopefully be available in April, 1998.

As of yet, there is no state requirement for ongoing professional development, but a large majority of professionals in this field already do participate in inservice training on a regular basis. High quality, comprehensive staff development opportunities that deliver needed information to personnel when and where and how they need it, is a goal for this state. Currently, Dixie Mercer is updating the Statewide Staff Development Plan that was written in 1990 and has guided her efforts for the past several years. This plan led to the creation of Texas Focus, a summer institute for VI personnel, to quarterly mailings of the staff development calendar (now also available on the WEB at www.tsbvi.edu), involvement in developing the document being used to assess student progress statewide, beginning efforts to develop an inservice mentor program, and the beginning of the Eyeball Bucks program. Would you like to have input into the shape of training to come? Contact Dixie Mercer at (512) 206-9270 to help Texas stretch in this area.

Goal 5: Local education programs will ensure that all students have access to a full array of placement options.

Did you know that the Federal and State law guarantee an array of placement options? Did you know that in some areas, visually impaired students are placed in existing and easily available educational settings without regard for the setting that would best meet their needs? The National Agenda envisions a day when the students' needs will be paramount, and the place where those needs can be best met at that time is agreed to be the most appropriate placement, whether that means the regular classroom, a special classroom in a neighborhood school, a special school, or some other option. The National Council of Schools for the Blind is designing new informational packets about the roles of special schools, like the Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, so that all ARD committees work with current and valid information. Do you have ideas on how to encourage local programs to value the array of placement options guaranteed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?

In training for families, we all need to increase their awareness of their children's educational needs, and the fact that as these needs change with time, there may be many different educational settings that can and should be accessed. The TSBVI has issued a new brochure for families on its services, both long and short term on-campus programs as well as Outreach support, and the TCB works hard to assist families in advocating for their rights to appropriate placements. Please contact Cyral Miller at (512) 206-9242 with what you do to ensure appropriate placements and/or your ideas on what else can be done.

Goal 6: Assessment of students will be conducted, in collaboration with parents, by personnel having expertise in the education of students with visual impairments.

How well are students currently progressing? A group of vision and O&M consultants from the Educational Regional Service Centers worked with the TSBVI in developing a process and format to document the achievement of students with visual impairments on a regional basis. This process is being piloted this year, and will establish current data on regional student performance levels in all areas of the core curriculum. The document is not designed to measure individual progress nor to lead to individual educational plans, but should provide a new level of needs assessment for designing regional and statewide programs. A summer institute is being designed for VI teachers and O& M Instructors in June 1998, to provide more ideas and instruction on how to effectively use the RSPI document and associated assessment instruments.

For young children, accurate assessment can be very difficult to obtain. It involves a close working relationship between doctors, teachers, ECI staff, and families. In the survey mentioned in Goal 2, our survey reported that 75% of the families (primarily with young children from 2-5 yeas old) felt that they understood and participated in their child's assessment. Is this your experience? Is this still true for older students? Is assessment in all areas conducted by qualified personnel, and if not, what can we do (what have you done) to address this problem? What should we do to increase that percentage to 100% for ALL students with visual impairments and deafblindness, including those with multiple disabilities? Contact Cyral Miller (512) 206-9242 with your ideas.

Goal 7: Access to developmental and educational services will include an assurance that instructional materials are available to students in the appropriate media and at the same time as their sighted peers.

The Texas Education Agency is working to make certain that all braille textbooks arrive in local schools at the same time as the books for print readers. Data will be collected on timely delivery of textbooks during the 1997-98 school year. Legislation passed in Texas that mandates textbook publishers to provide accessible electronic files of their books to braille producers is the primary reason for on-time delivery of braille textbooks. This legislation has been replicated in many states. Texas has implemented a comprehensive process for determining which agencies provide our students with Braille textbooks of the highest quality. If you have questions or suggestions you may want to contact Chuck Mayo (512) 463-9362 at the TEA.

Goal 8: Educational and developmental goals, including instruction, will reflect the assessed needs of each student in all areas of academic and disability-specific core curricula.

Phil Hatlen has written an article describing the core curriculum for students with visual impairments. A new document, an annotated bibliography complied by Nancy Levack, provides a ready resource for teachers and/or families seeking information on how to teach and what to teach students with visual impairments, deafblindness and additional disabilities. Both of these documents are available on the web at <http://www.tsbvi.edu>.

For several years, the Outreach Department at TSBVI has offered training for local districts on "Quality Programming for Visually Impaired Students" (QPVI) a process designed by Nancy Toelle, QPVI Coordinator. While this program has always stressed the Core Curriculum, the focus will be even greater in 1997-98 with the availability of these new resources. QPVI may be worth considering as a model for providing training to achieve Goal 8 of the National Agenda.

The sample supplementary IEP form used for all IFSP and IEP meetings for students with visual impairments includes a list of many areas in which these students must be assessed to determine if there are instrucitonal needs. What have you done in your region/district to ensure that students have goals referenced to these needs? What will it take to ensure that all students have educational opportunities to progress in all areas of academic and disability specific core curricula? Contact Cyral Miller with your ideas.

We will be assembling an advisory group to oversee progress in this state towards achieving the National Agenda. It will meet through telephone conferences 2-3 times a year. Would you like to be involved? Please contact Jean Robinson and add your name to the list of participants! Additonal information about the National Agenda can be found at http://www.tsbvi.edu/agenda.


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