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Dr. Kitra Gray, sponsored by Region 11 Education Service Center

Abstract: The Summer 2019 issue of TX SenseAbilities introduced an article on specially designed instruction (SDI) for students with visual impairments. The excerpt below explains the first component of IDEA's mandate, adapting the content, and how it may differ for students with visual impairments. The other two components of SDI, adapting the methodology and the delivery of instruction (IDEA § 300.39 (b)(3).), will be featured in future issues of this newsletter. Dr. Gray’s entire article can be viewed at https://www.tsbvi.edu/tools-items/581-tx-senseabilities/summer-2019/6064-what-is-specially-designed-instruction-for-students-with-visual-impairments.

Keywords: specially designed instruction, SDI, local education agency, LEA, unique needs, Expanded Core Curriculum, ECC, IEP

Component I: Adapting the Content

Usually when educators think of adapting the content, they focus on the state curriculum content standards. However, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), 2017 Guidelines and Standards for Educating Students with Visual Impairments in Texas (2017, p. 6) state that “in addition to the general education curriculum all students with visual impairments, starting at birth, also need an expanded core curriculum (ECC) to meet needs directly related to their visual impairment (TEC 30.002, Subsections (c-1) and (c-2).” Thus, when considering adapting the content for students with visual impairments, the ARD committee must consider two content areas:

  1. General education curriculum
  2. Expanded core curriculum (ECC). 

This additional content area, known as the Expanded Core Curriculum, is essential for students with visual impairments so they can graduate ready for further education, employment and/or independent living as required by the purpose of IDEA. Meeting this IDEA purpose “is a key role of the TVI [teacher of students with visual impairments] and the Expanded Core Curriculum for Students with Visual Impairments…” (AFB, n.d., p. 5).

According to the 2017 Guidelines and Standards for Educating Students with Visual Impairments in Texas (TEA, 2017, p. 6), the Expanded Core Curriculum includes:

  • Compensatory skills that permit access to the general curriculum (such as braille and concept development, tactile graphics, Nemeth Code, and specialized communication skills) 
  • Orientation and mobility skills 
  • Social interaction skills 
  • Career education and planning 
  • Assistive technology, including optical devices 
  • Independent living skills 
  • Recreation and leisure skills 
  • Self-determination, and 
  • Sensory efficiency (including visual, tactual and auditory skills). 

The guidelines do not indicate that one area of the ECC is more important than another area. They are all equally important for students with visual impairments. Therefore, for the ARD committee to appropriately develop an IEP for a student with a visual impairment, the committee must have access to four types of evaluation/assessment data:

  1. Functional vision evaluation (FVE)
  2. Learning media assessment (LMA)
  3. Expanded core curriculum (ECC) assessments (in all areas)
  4. Orientation and mobility (O&M) evaluation.

“The FVE, LMA and ECC assessments are the main specialized assessments for students with visual impairments that form part of a comprehensive evaluation for eligibility” (Zebehay, et.al. 2017, p. 39). In addition, in Texas, the Orientation and Mobility Evaluation is also a requirement of the initial and continuing eligibility of a student with visual impairments (SBOE § 89.1040 (12)(B).). So, all four evaluations/assessments are required both at the initial evaluation and at the three year evaluation. IDEA is clear that a comprehensive evaluation must address both eligibility and “content of the child’s IEP” (IDEA § 300.304 (b) (ii).). Furthermore, “these specialized assessments should be considered a ‘living document,’ meaning that they should be updated frequently enough to maintain a record of the student’s functioning and to assess current and future needs that may change with age, grade level, or visual prognosis” (Zebehay, et.al. 2017, p. 39). 

Therefore, specially designed instruction for students with visual impairments must consider “two equally essential and interrelated curricula, the general curriculum and the expanded core curriculum. . . . The first is the core curriculum which consist of all skill areas that are common to all students” (Holbrook & Rosenblum, 2017, p. 205). The second curriculum, the ECC, is important because “after analysis, there is evidence that there are numerous significant relationships between the receipt of instruction in expanded core curriculum (ECC)-like content areas and meaningful outcomes, such as employment, postsecondary training, and engagement in social activities” (Wolffe & Kelly, 2011). Thus, the expanded core curriculum is an “integral and indispensable component of the [general] curriculum, not skills that are considered extra or for enrichment” (Holbrook & Rosenblum, 2017, p. 205). 

When devising an IEP for a student with a visual impairment, the ARD committee needs to address both curricular areas because one area can impact the other. For instance, the general curriculum may need to be adapted because the braille reading curriculum is commonly not aligned with the general education reading curriculum. Braille instruction includes learning symbols and contractions of words that frequently need to be introduced in a different order than letters and words in the traditional reading curriculum.

Another example is sometimes a student with a visual impairment may not be reading on grade level because of proficiency with braille, not because of the student’s ability to learn. Braille takes more time and practice than visually reading print. Learning braille can also be impacted by other disabilities or the age when the student’s vision was impaired. So consideration of adaptations of both curricula, general curriculum and braille curriculum (part of the ECC), must be addressed simultaneously as one can impact the other.

References:

Holbrook, M. C., & Rosenblum, L. P. (2017). Planning Instruction in Unique Skills, and Supporting Differentiated Instruction and Inclusion in General Education. In Holbrook, M. C., McCarthy, T., & Kamei-Hannan, C. (Eds.). Foundations of Education, Volume II: Instructional Strategies for Teaching Children and Youths with Visual Impairments (3rd ed.). New York, N.Y.: AFB Press.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. (2004). Retrieved from: http://framework.esc18.net/Documents/Side_by_Side.pdf 

Texas Education Agency (TEA). (2017). 2017 Guidelines and Standards for Educating Students with Visual Impairments in Texas. Developed with Texas Action Committee for the Education of Students with Visual Impairments. Retrieved from: http://tea.texas.gov/Academics/Special_Student_Populations/Special_Education/Programs_and_Services/Sensory_Impairments/Sensory_Impairments

Wolffe, K. & Kelly, S. M. (2011). Instruction in Areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum Linked to Transition Outcomes for Students with Visual Impairments. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ930501

Zebehazy, K. T., Kamei-Hannan, C., Barclay, L. A. (2017). Overview of Assessment. In Holbrook, M. C., McCarthy, T., & Kamei-Hannan, C. (Eds.). Foundations of Education, Volume II: Instructional Strategies for Teaching Children and Youths with Visual Impairments (3rd ed.). New York, N.Y.: AFB Press.