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KC Dignan, PhD

Introduction

Whether called “certification” or “credentials” or “licensure,” each state establishes standards for assuring the public that educators (including related service providers) meet minimum qualifications. While the standards vary from state to state, each VI professional will need to meet the requirements for that state.

Assumptions

  • Districts and programs have access to their state’s requirements for certification of educators.
  • Administrators have access to a certification specialist. This specialist may be employed by the district or at a regional service center. The specialist may or may not work in the human resources office.
  • District administrators may be less familiar with the organizations that certify O&M specialists. Information about those organizations is included below.

How are VI teachers certified?

VI teachers are certified by the state in which they work. Most states offer a credential that addresses the specific needs of children with visual impairments. Those few states that do not require a VI credential may require professional development in visual impairments.

States usually issue certifications for teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs). O&M specialists are certified by national organizations, similar to PTs and OTs.

How are O&M specialists certified?

Although some states certify O&M specialists, most are certified through one of two organizations. O&M specialists may be certified through the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP). More information about O&M certification can be found at ACVREP’s Web site, www.acvrep.org. The National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) is the other certifying organization for O&M specialists. More information about can be found at www.nbpcb.org. 

How is VI certification affected by “highly qualified” under IDEA and NCLB?

NCLB requires that all teachers who deliver direct instruction to students with disabilities in core academic subject areas must meet the state’s requirements for the grade level and/or content area they are teaching. Special educators who are the teacher-of-record in core subject areas (responsible for the student’s grade) must meet the requirements for special education and the assigned content area. The educational setting, (whether resource room or itinerant) is not a factor.

Unless responsible for issuing a grade, when a VI professional is fully certified, she or he is considered to be “highly qualified.”

Both NCLB and IDEA require that all educators be “highly qualified.” Although there is a slight variance between the two laws, the definitions are coordinated. The specifics of “highly qualified” for each content area (including certifications in disability-related disciplines) are determined by each state. However, in general, when a person meets the criteria for full certification under that state’s statutes, she or he is considered “highly qualified” for the purposes of IDEA.

Regardless of assignment or instructional setting, the VI teacher needs to meet highly qualified standards under IDEA. However, not all VI professionals are required to meet NCLB standards. NCLB standards must be met if the following two conditions are true:

  • The VI teacher is responsible for direct instruction (including instructional design and student evaluation), and
  • The course is considered to be a “core academic subject.”

The following four examples provide further clarification. The VI professionals in these situations are exempt:

  • VI teachers who are considered “co-teachers” and work within the regular classroom. In this case, the general education teacher is responsible for the design and evaluation of the instruction.
  • The VI teacher who provides consultation to assist in adapting the curriculum, using behavioral supports or interventions, and accommodations. He or she is considered a consultant and is exempt.
  • VI professionals who provide direct instruction, but in non-core academic subject areas, such as expanded core curriculum areas (social skills, orientation and mobility, using low-vision devices, just to name a few) are not required to meet the NCLB “highly qualified” standard.
  • O&M specialists are not teachers. Depending on state licensure standards, they may not be affected by NCLB requirements. Please check your state’s requirements. (Texas professionals can reference tea.texas.gov)

What types of competencies do teachers certified in visual impairments (TVIs) need?

Specific programs of study will depend on the state’s certification requirements, training options (whether VI or O&M), and other additional factors. States will organize competencies in different ways and use various descriptors. The Council for Exceptional Children has published performance standards for many special educators, including the area of visual impairments. These standards are highly regarded and may have affected your state’s requirements.  (www.cec.sped.org/content/navigationmenu/professionaldevelopment/professionalstandards/)

VI teachers are certified by states. While organization and specific requirements differ, most address similar competencies.

While state standards vary, basic themes emerge. Below, are basic competencies as developed by professionals in visual impairments. Although a state may organize competencies and skills in endless variations, it is anticipated that the foundational constructs will be limited and still similar to the listing below.  A sample set of competencies in visual impairments (including detailed knowledge and skill sets) is included in Chapter 10: Performance Evaluation for VI Professionals

Competent teachers of students with visual impairments including those students with additional disabilities understand and apply knowledge of the domains listed below.

  • Basic characteristics and needs of students with visual impairments
  • Strategies for assessing and instructing in the expanded core curriculum (ECC). The ECC is the educational domains, which are unique to students with visual impairments. The ECC includes braille, self-determination, low-vision devices, orientation and mobility, and other domains.
  • Formal and informal assessments and evaluations, and how to use resulting data and other information to make service and programming recommendations and to apply in the development of students' individualized education programs (IEPs) and individualized family service plans (IFSPs)
  • Strategies for planning instruction in the school, home, and community environments to facilitate optimum student achievement, including efficient use of assistive technology to access the core curriculum (or to meet general education standards)
  • Skill in promotion of students' development of concepts and skills for academic achievement, social interaction, and independent living
  • Strategies for effective communication communicate and collaboration with other professionals in a variety of settings
  • Foundations of the VI profession, including pertinent legal requirements and ethical considerations relating to students' education, and strategies for continued expansion of professional knowledge and skills
  • Reading and producing contracted and uncontracted literary braille and Nemeth Code
  • Preparing students for a successful transition to adult careers or vocations

Note: Adapted from the Texas State Board for Educator Certification, available for download at http://tinyurl.com/7v9y8bl  

In what areas are O&M specialists trained?

A certified orientation and mobility specialist (COMS) provides sequential instruction to individuals with visual impairment in the use of their senses to determine their position within the environment, and in techniques for safe movement from one place to another. The two certifying organizations have different training philosophies; however their professional domains are equivalent. Certified O&M specialists are proficient in the following domains:

  • concept development, including spatial, temporal, positional, directional, and environmental concepts, as well as body image concept development
  • motor development, including motor skills needed for balance, posture, and gait, as well as the use of adaptive devices and techniques to assist those individuals with multiple disabilities
  • sensory development, including visual, auditory, vestibular, kinesthetic, tactile, olfactory, and proprioceptive senses, and the interrelationships of these systems
  • residual vision stimulation and training
  • human guide techniques
  • protective techniques
  • locating dropped objects and other search strategies
  • specific travel and cane techniques
  • soliciting and declining assistance
  • problem solving
  • instruction in the use of low-vision devices
O&M specialists are certified by one of two national organizations. More information can be found: www.ACVREP.org or www.NPBCB.org

What is required to maintain certification for VI professionals?

VI teachers

Most states now require that teachers certified in visual impairments (TVIs) renew their certification and require additional professional development to do so. Check with your state’s education service center and/or regional certification agency for specific details.

O&M specialists

Certification for O&M specialists (COMS) must be renewed every 5 years. In order to maintain that certification, specialists must submit information as required by either the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP; www.ACVREP.org) or the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB; www.nbpcb.org).

Can VI professionals be emergency certified?

VI teachers

Based on IDEA 2004, states may no longer offer emergency, temporary, or other “partial permits.” Some states do offer probationary certificates, licenses, or their equivalent. Contact your state’s department of education for details.

O&M specialists

There is no emergency, temporary, or probationary certification of any kind for orientation and mobility specialists. All O&M specialists must be fully certified before they can deliver services.

What about VI professionals who are certified by other states?

VI teachers

Moving from state to state is becoming less of a problem for teachers certified in visual impairments. There are many ways to determine the validity of a certification from one state to another. Two primary sources are

  • a state’s department of education Web site, and
  • the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC).
For more information contact your state’s department of education, or NASDTEC at www.nasdtec.org

NASDTEC is a collective of state education agencies (SEAs) responsible for educator certification. NASDTEC publishes both a directory and a Web site with information about certification requirements and availability by state and/or country. (Please check with your local certifying organization for a copy of or information from the directory, or visit the Web site at http://www.nasdtec.org.)

The University of Southern California has also developed a “certification map.” This interactive portal provides general certification information, and links to additional information about every state’s certification processes. It does not include any specific information about specific certificates. However, that information can be retrieved through the link to the specific certifying agency. (See http://certificationmap.com.)

O&M Specialists

O&M certifications are national, not state, certifications. However, each SEA will determine which certification they accept. It is possible that your state will only accept certification from one organization, such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification (NBPTS), or the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP). Check with your state’s education agency to verify requirements.