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KC Dignan, PhD


Each disability requires that a broad set of disability-specific skills and abilities be addressed. For students with visual impairments, the disability-specific skills are within nine domains and collectively known as the “expanded core curriculum” (ECC). When the domains in the ECC are systematically and intentionally addressed by all members of the instructional team, the student’s independence and readiness for the post-school environment are dramatically improved.

A visual impairment can affect all areas of functioning, well beyond the classroom. The ECC extends beyond reading, writing, and calculation. It includes those skills necessary to benefit from instruction in the core curriculum and to achieve functional independence.

The expanded core curriculum provides opportunities for equality for the blind and visually impaired; to NOT teach it is to deny this basic human right. (Phil Hatlen, 2005, See/Hear: An Amazing Movement.)

The ECC stems from the following IDEA requirements for evaluations:
For children who are blind or visually impaired, evaluations to document the present level of academic and functional performance for the development of the individualized education program (IEP) are required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (34 CFR §300.320 (a)(1))

And specially designed instruction:
Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability.  (34 CFR §300.39 (b)(3)(i))


  • While the concepts and skills affiliated with the expanded core curriculum (ECC) have been described for many years as those needed for students with visual impairments, the term “expanded core curriculum” (or “ECC”) may be new to administrators, and possibly to VI professionals.
  • Assessment and instruction for students with visual impairments in the ECC domains may be completed by the VI professional, or other members of the educational team, including family members.
  • Districts who have not been active in ensuring that each student has been assessed in all of the ECC domains, may develop a plan to identify priority domains and timelines for completion of the assessments.
  • While all students should be periodically assessed in all of the ECC domains, not all students will require instruction in every domain every year.
  • Due to the non-traditional, but required nature of the ECC domains and the requirement in IDEA that instruction takes place in the home, school, and community, districts may need.

What does the expanded core curriculum (ECC) include?

The ECC includes nine domain areas. These are:

'The two things I use every day of my life are social skills and orientation and mobility skills. . . . Those were the lowest priorities for my teachers when I was in school.' (K. Carley, an adult with a visual impairment in a speech to the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairments.)
  1. Compensatory or functional skills needed to access the general curriculum.
    1. literacy-related areas, such as braille, handwriting skills, low-vision devices and tactual or object symbols.
    2. communication, including alternative communication systems, such as tactile or object-oriented systems.
    3. specialized instruction, such as numerous methods to represent spatial, environmental, and temporal and/or body concepts, including those too small, large, or dangerous to be experienced directly.
  2. Sensory efficiency. Students are likely to need structured and systematic instruction in visual, tactual, and auditory skills in order to benefit from other areas of the general curriculum and the expanded core curriculum.
  3. Orientation and mobility. Safe and efficient travel throughout the environment. Travel skills start in infancy and are not restricted to only those who are mobile, blind, or are without additional disabilities.
  4. Social interaction skills. Visual impairments can socially isolate a student and affect his or her ability to benefit from innumerable non-verbal social cues. This can have an effect on the student’s personal life and future employment.
  5. Assistive technology. Access to information in “real time” is a key issue for students with visual impairments. High- and low-tech strategies may be critical for students to access the general curriculum and enhance communications.
  6. Independent living skills: The myriad of skills that assists with living is primarily learned visually. Students with visual impairments are likely to need structured instruction in personal, financial, and/or home-management skills. Family members may help facilitate learning these skills.
  7. Recreation and leisure skills. Students need to be exposed to recreation and leisure activities, as exposure may not happen incidentally. Students should be made aware of modifications needed to make an activity accessible.
  8. Career education. With limited ability to learn about employment options via observation, students need to be taught about the various types of career options and the skills necessary to achieve personal goals.
  9. Self-determination. Self-determination includes decision-making, self-advocacy, and individual responsibility. These skills lead to competence, as opposed to “learned helplessness,” and are appropriate for all students, at all ages and abilities.
Every parent wants their child to have meaningful social relationships. For parents, this is not an “optional” activity. It is critical to a satisfying life and success in a job. The ECC addresses parents’ concerns.

What does IDEA say about the expanded core curriculum (ECC)?

IDEA addresses the need for disability-specific skills in multiple ways.

From IDEA regarding evaluations:
For children who are blind or visually impaired, evaluations to document the present level of academic and functional performance for the development of the individualized education program (IEP) are required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (34 CFR §300.320 (a)(1))

From IDEA regarding specially designed instruction:
Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability. (34 CFR §300.39 (b)(3)(i))

As per IDEA: Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability. (34 CFR §300.39 (b)(3)(i)) (emphasis added)

“Specially designed instruction” for students with visual impairments, and based on assessment, specially designed instruction is the expanded core curriculum (ECC). The “expanded core curriculum” refers to the knowledge, concepts, and skills typically learned incidentally by sighted students that must be sequentially presented to the student who is blind or has low vision. The expanded core curriculum areas include:

  1. needs that result from the visual impairment to enable the student “to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum; and
  2. other educational needs that result from the child's disability” as required by IDEA. (34 CFR § 300.320 (a)(2)(i)(A)(B)).

The presence of a visual impairment requires that these skills be thoroughly evaluated and systematically taught to these students by teachers with specialized expertise. Without specialized instruction, children with vision loss may not be aware of the activities of their peers or acquire other critical information about their surroundings. (NASDSE, 1999, p. 70).

Why is it important?

In short, systematically addressing the expanded core curriculum (ECC) makes a dramatic difference on how prepared students are for their next environment.


  • Students with visual impairments attend postsecondary institutions at a rate that is comparable to students without disabilities.
  • 29.4% of students with visual impairments are competitively employed versus 69% youths in general.
  • 46.4% of students with visual impairments live independently versus 60% youths in general.
  • “Vocational skills training for youths with visual impairments needs to incorporate the use of compensatory skills . . .” (Nagle, 2001).
“[The TVI] used the ECC with one student last year and it was DRAMATIC . . . like TRANSFORMATIVE!” Special Education director about changing to an ECC-based program.

Having ECC skills makes “the difference between life and a successful life.” “Students who receive high-quality instruction in the ECC have a ‘richer quality of life’ than do those who do not” (Sapp & Hatlen, p. 2010).

What is my role as an administrator?

As an administrator, you have the unique role of ensuring that the ECC will be implemented in your district. Implementation will include issues related to staffing, service provision, and professional development.

Let’s get started!

Role of VI professionals in the ECC and staffing issues

Teachers certified in visual impairments (TVIs) and orientation and mobility specialists (COMS/O&Ms) certainly play a large role in providing assessment and instruction in the ECC. VI professionals are not the only key players. They provide:

  • assessment and evaluation,
  • direct instruction,
  • consultation,
  • collaboration, and
  • facilitation with community and statewide resources.

However, the scope of the competencies in the ECC and the need for instruction in the home, school, and community will require increased participation and creativity.

VI professionals and others may require periodic changes in work shifts, collaboration with nontraditional partners, and various types of transportation support.

Solid supervisory/administrative support also includes ensuring that there is:

  • evidence of ECC assessments in evaluation reports,
  • evidence of IEP goals based on ECC evaluations, and
  • evidence of ECC instruction during staff observations, including the performance evaluation.

Ways to support staff

There are innumerable ways to support this change to an ECC-based VI program. Here are just a few examples:

  • Support training for VI/O&M staff on addressing ECC needs through conferences, regional service centers, and other professional development activities.
  • Provide resources for ongoing data collection to VI/O&M staff to complete ECC checklists/evaluations as part of FVE/LMA and O&M evaluations.
  • Provide strong support and time for collaborative team discussions on multidisciplinary approaches to addressing student ECC needs. Collaboration requires time; without it, meetings collapse or become nonproductive.
  • Encourage creativity to meet the ECC instructional options.
  • Consider time outside of the regular school day to accomplish ECC instruction
    • Flexible schedules
    • Before and after school
    • Summer instruction
  • Facilitate transportation
  • Facilitate community exploration and experiences

Starting with assessment

As in other programmatic areas, a VI program based on the ECC requires plans for assessment and instruction.

Many districts find that they have not completed assessments in all areas of the ECC. The VI professional or other team member may say “She/He can do that,” but not have data to show whether target behavior is age appropriate or generalizes to other settings or environments. For example, the classroom social skills may not be the skills most desired on the playground, at church, or in a social gathering.

The hardest part is just getting started. However, armed with a plan and a timeline, completing assessments in all required areas can be accomplished.

Step 1: Evaluate student needs

Review the existing documentation on your students. Look for the following documents:

Student information needed to support either a caseload analysis or the ECC is very similar. Each will support the other.
  • Eye examination report
  • Referral and parental permission
  • Functional vision evaluation and learning media assessment
  • Additional evaluations, such as an O&M evaluation, assistive technology, adapted P.E. evaluation, clinical low-vision evaluation, and others, depending on individual students.
  • Data-driven evaluations in all areas of the ECC. Multiple formal and informal evaluations and checklists exist. Two excellent resources are Evals: Evaluating Visually Impaired Students from TSBVI and ECC checklists, including those developed by Education Service Center–Region 10. (
  • In addition to checking on the existence of the evaluations, review evaluations for completeness and connectivity.
    • Do the evaluations offer a complete picture of the student’s abilities and needs?
    • Do the evaluations seem to relate to each other? Do the evaluations map a plan for the future?
    • Do recommendations provide functional activities that classroom staff and family members can understand?
    • Do the evaluations go beyond the basic requirements of regulations to meet all the current and anticipated future needs of individual students?

Step 2: Prioritize domains for additional assessment

It isn’t always possible to address all areas that may arise from your review at once. Gather feedback from students, parents, general and special educators, and support staff. Then determine a plan to address areas of concern as you build capacity ensuring that in the future all students are fully assessed. For example, set goals for the next round of assessments, including:

  • Domains that are especially sparse will be an early focus.
  • Each VI professional will complete assessments on four students.
  • Complete assessments on all 1st- through 3rd-graders this year and 5th- through 8th-graders next year.
  • Focus on new students and re-evaluations.

Step 3: Develop an assessment plan

It all starts with a plan. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.

Gather your resources

Once your priorities are set, determine how you will address the additional evaluations needed. 

  • Resources like Evals: Evaluating Visually Impaired Students (TSBVI) can be invaluable. Evals provides a detailed listing of specific areas addressed in school curricula. It specifically references the Texas Educational Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that are basic building blocks of knowledge and skills in Texas. While the names and organizations will differ from state to state, the knowledge and skills will be equivalent. Evals has thousands of specific skills that you can use to form checklists to meet your specific needs.
  • The ECC Checklists from the Region 10 Education Service Center bring all of the Evals data into a single document. The checklists can also be used to track progress over a period of years.

An important consideration when using multiple assessment partners, especially when using checklists, is having a common understanding of the criteria for completion. This can be a common problem when one person thinks a student’s skill is “good enough” and another thinks it is still “emerging.” This can be due to expectations or issues in generalizations across environments. Regardless, consistency in scoring is a key factor to viable assessments.

One way to ensure consistency in scoring criteria is to have a common scoring tool used across as many assessments as is reasonable. One tool could be the scoring criteria developed by Functional Resources, Inc. for the Functional Skills Screening Inventory (FSSI; There is a basic one and variations for different environment and employment situations. Copies are included in the Resources section of this chapter.

Determine your assessment partners

Determine who will complete which necessary assessments. Some skills can be assessed in special education classes, including early childhood and life-skills type classes. General educators, including vocational and physical education specialists, are valuable assessment partners. Parents can assist with assessments in the home and community. Students may attend special events, such workshops or camps, where the assessments take place.

The assessment partners may need training on how to use specific assessment instruments. It may be as little as helping them understand the criteria for “independent” on a checklist, or it may be more extensive. If more extensive help is needed, professional development should be part of the implementation plan and the schedule should be adjusted as appropriate.

Access to the ECC has provided the vehicle for transforming students with visual impairments’ independence and opportunity for enhanced postsecondary outcomes. Special Education director about changing to an ECC-based program.

Develop an assessment schedule

Depending on your plan to develop comprehensive evaluations for the ECC, your schedule for assessments may be part of the re-evaluation process. Or the assessments may be scheduled to happen during the year in accordance with other academic and non-academic events. It could also take place during the summer, or while on field trips. The important thing is to have a schedule, one that is well known and viable for all team members.

Getting started with instruction

Embarking on a direct and high-quality program to support instruction in the expanded core curriculum (ECC) requires commitment and knowledge.

What do we do first?

Commit to the change.

With a clear understanding of the expanded core curriculum, you are ready to guide your program to the next step in excellence. As a team, you and the VI professionals in your district will develop the resources and skills to implement this proactive change.

The commitment to move to ECC-based programming may be a significant change and may affect many areas of the program, ranging from how educators and support staff spend their time, how professionals develop plans and approaches, to how educational teams interact. However, the result will be students who are better able to (a) benefit from the core curriculum, (b) transition to and function in their next environment, and (c) engage in a variety of social and career options with safety and confidence.

What are our next steps?

Once the information is gathered from checklists, screenings, or other evaluations, the next step is to determine priorities, both for individual students and the program as a whole.

It is possible that a review of all (or a sample of) the summary checklists indicates that many of your students have limited understanding in one or more areas. If so, then a plan to address the professional development and the acquisition of necessary resources will be needed.

What about the “time factor”?

The ECC has also made it easier for collaboration and co-treat models in for O&M, as well as speech, OT and AT. Special Education director about changing to an ECC-based program.

The first daunting question that is always asked is “How will we find the time? We are already too busy.” The challenge is to think outside of the box and find more focused means of meeting the ECC program goals; to develop and use new collaborative relationships and use available time in more varied ways.

  • Ensure that VI professionals focus and teach only in expanded core domains. Other educators have the expertise and are available to teach core topics. Why use the limited time in non-ECC activities?
  • Eliminate tutoring from the VI professional’s day. If a student is having trouble in a core area, is it because she or he doesn’t know how to use the tools needed to access the information? Or is the reason more content-driven? For example, if a student is having trouble with spelling, the TVI will help if she can’t use her magnifier to read the spelling words, but if she is having trouble remembering how to spell, someone else is better suited.
  • Examine strengths and weakness in VI professionals. When a TVI or O&M specialist is unsure or unskilled and is responsible to working in a domain, the instruction will be less efficient, less effective, and will require more time. Help VI professionals in your district access the needed professional development and ensure that the new skills get implemented into daily routines.
  • Develop appropriate and shared responsibilities of all team members. This may require new relationships, or changes in existing partnerships.

Where can I find training?

Given the scope of the ECC and the range of caseloads, it is expected that some level of professional development will be needed.

In addition to what neighboring, regional, and state educational organizations and agencies provide, an increasing amount of targeted professional development options are available. More and more organizations are offering training via distance learning options, either through webinars, compressed video networks (interactive television systems), or any combination of like approaches. Also, since many distance learning training options are either free or have a single cost attached, more members of the student’s educational team may attend, thereby incorporating the new information into a variety of learning environments.

Social skills and assistive technology are particular areas I note intense student growth. Special Education director about changing to an ECC-based program.

What are my instructional options?

For some districts, incorporating the ECC will be a big change. It may be part of a 2–3-year plan to move toward excellence. Also, given the scope of the expanded core curriculum, it may require considerations in instructional and staffing arrangements. Below is brief listing of various options for your consideration as you and your VI professionals map out this new programmatic approach to visual impairments.

  • Direct instruction with the VI professional(s)

This may or may not be different from how instruction is currently delivered. The focus of the instruction may shift. Rather than providing tutoring services, the VI professional may instead increase instruction in how to access the general curriculum using, for example, low-vision devices. Or instruction may occur more often out of the classroom, off the campus and into the community for vocational programming.

  • Collaboration with other team members, including parents and community organizations

Collaboration, or collaborative consultation, is an active process that takes place in the student’s learning environment—whether home, school, or community. The VI professional may be present in classrooms and learning environments not visited previously, such as the home economics class, work programs, or home.

Collaboration may also happen with community programs, such as Girl Scouts or various hobby-related groups, such as horseback riding or sports programs.

  • Regional and statewide events can also provide experience and instruction in the expanded core curriculum domains.

Many states have access to summer and holiday programs through a variety of sources. These may include camps, such as those sponsored by:

    • Lion’s Clubs,
    • short-term programs at residential schools
    • rehabilitation organizations
    • Lighthouse for the Blind
    • independent living centers
    • regional education service centers
  • Adult mentoring can also be a very powerful tool.  When students are connected with an adult with a visual impairment, they (and their parents) can get a better understanding of what will be expected of them once they leave the school system.

How can I support the staff?

For many districts, moving to an ECC-based program may be a big change and may require more than 1 year to complete. Here are a few tips for supporting this change:

  • Remember options for addressing the ECC.
  • Provide strong support and ample time for collaborative team discussions on multidisciplinary approaches to addressing students’ ECC needs.
  • Provide resources for ongoing data collection to VI/O&M staff to complete ECC checklists/evaluations as part of functional vision evaluations/learning media assessments and O&M evaluations.
  • Expect data collection and assessments to be part of standard instructional practices.
  • Support training for VI-related team members on addressing ECC needs through conferences, regional service centers, TSBVI Outreach, and the like.
  • When using multiple people to assess students and collect data, ensure that there is a common understanding of criteria and ratings.
  • Work with VI professionals to find solutions for addressing ECC goals.
  • Consider using time outside of the regular school day, including the use of
    • exchange and/or comp time,
    • instruction before and/or after the school day, and
    • summer instruction.
  • Provide support for
    • transportation and
    • community exploration and experiences.

Where can I find ECC resources?

Below is a listing of many ECC resources. This is just a partial listing intended to provide basic information. At this writing, resources for the ECC are being developed at a faster and faster rate. It would be impossible to develop a representational listing for the future. However, by checking with major “hubs” of information and being willing to branch off from those hubs, you should be able to find what you need.

Selected sources for information on the expanded core curriculum

Included resources

Expanded Core Curriculum Content Area Resource Mapping

A listing of resources sorted according to ECC domain. Included within each domain is a short listing of assessments, curricula, and resources. The VI professionals in your district should be helpful in finding the information listed.

Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Action Plan

A table that provides an overview of areas to be addressed, services, and individuals responsible.

Scoring criteria from the Functional Skills Screening Inventory (FSSI) (

These criteria can provide a common understanding of a student’s abilities. It is not expected that a student must get all “4’s” to have mastered a skill. However, scores in the 50% range indicate the need for increased instruction. The original scale provided a 17-point scale. For expediency, a 9-point scale is also offered. In the shortened scales, the quarter-point options have been removed. This is a separate document to be linked within the toolbox

The following documents are available via the Internet

What is the Expanded Core Curriculum for Blind and Visually Impaired Students?

An article by Cyral Miller published in the See/Hear newsletter.

Resources for the Expanded Core Curriculum (RECC)

The Resources for the Expanded Core Curriculum (RECC) is on the TSBVI website. This database is an annotated listing of nearly 1,000 resources and is sorted according to domain (e.g., self-determination, social interaction, independent living) and media type (e.g., website, apps for mobile/tablet, articles). In addition to the standard ECC domains, other domains regarding various student characteristics (e.g., early childhood, deafblind) and those domains of the standard core curriculum (e.g., math, the arts, physical education) as they apply to the student with low or no vision are provided, as well as domains for parents and VI educational professionals.

The RECC includes links to other websites, information developed by parents and VI professionals, resources that are free, and resources that can be purchased.

The RECC is located at:

ECC Tip Sheet:

Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Procedures Manual
This manual provides information for service providers and administrators. It includes information in the following areas:

  • Eligibility and entitlement
  • Program planning in all ECC content areas
  • Instruction, including lesson plans
  • Evaluation, including performance monitoring

Each chapter starts with a “Quick Look Procedure Guide” which is a table summarizing the contents of that chapter. A limited listing of useful features of this guide include:

  • an ECC needs assessment and protocol,
  • access models for students with cortical visual impairments,
  • rigor and relevance framework,
  • itinerant service delivery model,
  • ECC lesson plan framework, and
  • guidance on developing and documenting high-quality IEP documents.

The Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Procedures Manual is located at:

Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Resource Guide

The document is much more detailed and expansive than the Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Procedures Manual. The resource guide includes information in the following basic areas:

  • Eligibility and entitlement
  • Program planning in all ECC content areas
  • ECC content areas
  • Forms for instructions
  • Appendices

The Program Planning in ECC Content Areas section includes:

  • information about the content areas and checklists of skills that are organized by age and/or grade clusters; and
  • forms for needs assessments, assessment protocols, action plans, lesson plans, collaboration and consultation records, and service records.

Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Resource Guide is located at:

Resources available for purchase

This is a very short list and limited to those resources that provide information on all the ECC domains. These publications will provide an overview and/or address all the domains included in the ECC. Innumerable publications that focus on specific domains are also available.

The Resources for the Expanded Core Curriculum (RECC) has a more complete and annotated listing of resources listed by domain. (

Evals: Evaluating Visually Impaired Students

Evaluation of students with visual impairments is a complex, multifaceted process of gathering information using appropriate tools and techniques. Informal evaluation should be considered an essential supplement to the use of formal measures and published instruments. To determine curricular focus and plan effective instructional programming for students, the staff must know a student's levels of functioning in all areas of academic and nonacademic need.

Evals is a five-part set that includes:

  • Two books of evaluations for the ECC areas
  • One book of evaluations for academic subject areas for Practical Academics and Basic Skills students
  • Independent Living Skills Assessment and Ongoing Evaluation
  • TAPS Comprehensive Assessment and Ongoing Evaluation

(From the TSBVI website:

Numerous publications are also available from:


Blankenship, K., Coy, J., Prause, J., & Siller, M.  The Essential Assessments Rubric.  The E.A. Rubric: Essential Assessments for children who are blind or visually impaired.

Householter, C. 2014. Addressing the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) for Administrators, webinar developed by ESC 10 and hosted by the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. 

Nagle,S. 2001. Transition to Employment and Community Life. Journal of Visual Impairments and Blindness

National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE): Blind and Visually Impaired Students: Educational Service Guidelines (1999). Dr. Gaylen Pugh, Project Director. Watertown, MA: Hilton Perkins Foundation, Perkins School for the Blind

Sapp, W. & Hatlen, P. 2010. The Expanded Core Curriculum: Where We Have Been, Where We Are Going, and How We Can Get There, Journal of Visual Impairments and Blindness

Texas Action Committee for the Education of Students with Visual Impairments. 2014.  2014 Educating Students with Visual Impairments in Texas: Guidelines and Standards (pdf)