A Call To Action : Practical Suggestions for the Achievement of the National Agenda Goals
Hosted by Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Donna Stryker, Parent and Co-Chair the National Agenda Kathleen Huebner, Assistant Dean, Graduate Studies Pennsylvania College of Optometry Phil Hatlen, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Co-Chair the National Agenda
presented at Josephine Taylor Leadership Institute in Washington, DC on March 7, 1999
The eight goals of the National Agenda (listed below) will be accomplished only if parents, professionals, and blind and visually impaired persons work together to make it happen. The effort to achieve the National Agenda must take place at local, regional, and state levels. This "Call To Action" has been prepared to assist those charged with meeting the goals of the National Agenda. On first glance, the job of meeting these goals may seem so overwhelming as to be discouraging. But, by utilizing the suggestions in this guide and developing your own goals, we remain certain that the National Agenda will be achieved.
The history of the National Agenda is well-known to many of you, and we will not repeat it here. For detailed information on the National Agenda see the TSBVI website. We urge you to read The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments Including Those with Multiple Disabilities (NA) booklet published in 995 by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB Press). Single copies are available at no cost from AFB (See resource section for contact information). Familiarize yourself with other documents that are products of this movement. These include the following: "The Core Curriculum for Blind Visually Impaired Students" also available on the TSBVI website. A Report to the Nation: The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments Including Those with Multiple Disabilities (998 AFB Press), Annotated Bibliography of Curriculum Materials Related to the Core Curriculum for Blind and Visually Impaired Children and Youths, Including Those with Additional Disabilities (available from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and also on its website), and Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP); Policy Guidance on Educating Blind and Visually Impaired Students (Appendix in A Report to the Nation, and the TSBVI Website.
Goals of the National Agenda
Students and their families will be referred to an appropriate education program within 30 days of a suspected visual impairment.
Policies and procedures will be implemented to ensure the right of all parents to full participation and equal partnership in the education process.
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.
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.
Local education programs will ensure that all students have access to a full array of placement options.
Assessment of students will be conducted, in collaboration with parents, by personnel having expertise in the education of students with visual impairments.
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.
Educational and developmental goals, including instruction, will reflect the assessed needs of each student in all areas of academic and disability specific core curricula.
Each of the National Agenda's goals will be achieved by parents, professionals and blind consumers working together, sharing a dream, and always keeping in mind that the beneficiaries of our efforts will be children and youths who are entitled to an education that is at least equal to that provided for their sighted peers. Achievement of the National Agenda will begin a new era for education of students with visual impairments.
Eight National Goal Leaders (NGLs), one for each of the goals, have gathered data from across the country on the current status of the eight goals. Most have completed their analyses, and their findings are in A Report to the Nation. Other NGLs continue to gather information. As you search for ways to become involved in achieving the goals of the National Agenda, we urge you to consider the following:
Determine the geographic area that you will target, such as a school, school district, county, part or whole state, or region. Bring together leaders who are, and those who express an interest in becoming, committed to the National Agenda. Involve parents, professionals from the field of blindness and visual impairment as well as related service providers, and adults who are visually impaired. Decide on a plan of action: Commit to achieving the National Agenda. Assess where your targeted geographic area is in relation to the national findings for each goal so you can prioritize the ones you need to address. Identify the goals that present the most urgent needs in your state or region, and concentrate on them. Customize the national goals to meet particular needs in your state or region. Develop sub-committees for each of the goals to be addressed. Co-chairs for each sub-committee should consist of a parent and a professional whenever possible. Utilize state of the art data already collected by National Goal Leaders as well as information about other state activities that are presented in A Report to the Nation. Involve all existing parent, professional and consumer organizations in your state or region. Bring them in as partners. Involve policy makers and administrators. Establish timelines, assign responsibilities, and provide support for each team and individual. Share information about the National Agenda with others and recruit them to work on the effort. Maintain the commitment and enthusiasm for the National Agenda by recognizing your group's accomplishments.
We urge you to join the growing movement of professionals and parents who are committed to achieving the National Agenda. You won't be sorry.
Students and their families will be referred to an appropriate education program within 30 days of identification of a suspected visual impairment.
When a child is diagnosed with a visual impairment and the family has no one to answer their many questions and concerns, an opportunity is lost to inform, educate and encourage the family. The future is bright for their child. Blindness and visual impairment means a different way of learning and growing. The child can grow, learn, read, interact, and succeed to whatever ability he/she has. The achievement of Goal will start the families and the children on the road to early intervention so that every opportunity to learn will be made available as quickly as possible after diagnosis. It is a well documented and known fact that children benefit from appropriate early intervention.
Delayed referrals by the medical community of blind and visually impaired children and their families for early intervention services.
Lack of understanding and support for early intervention services by the medical community.
Lack of knowledge by the medical community of early intervention resources.
Negative attitudes of the medical community toward blindness and visual impairments and how those attitudes impede early referral.
Lack of ease of availability of information to parents on blindness, early development, and early intervention services in their area.
Lack of a national system for identifying and registering young blind and visually impaired children.
Lack of understanding by regular education and special education early interventionists of the importance of vision in early development and the need for specialized services.
Address each major issue to determine current status in your state/region.
Contact and work with your State Department of Special Education, State Early Intervention System, Birth: Three (Part H Funding) medical professionals, hospital neonatal unit nurses, social workers, special school administrators, early interventionists, outreach workers, and local education agency administrators. It would be helpful to familiarize yourself with PL 99-457, the federal law relating to special education services for preschool age children. Determine:
How the medical community currently makes referrals in your region/state. Be sure to broadly define medical community to include ophthalmologists, neurologists, pediatricians, optometrists, neonatalogists, hospital specialty clinics, i.e. prematurity clinics, hospital social workers, and nurses.
How state early intervention systems, birth to three, and state departments of special education refer parents for services.
How local school districts, and health and human service agencies refer parents for services.
The partnerships that are in place for your area for early referral between referral services and early intervention/education service systems.
What information, and in what media, is currently available and what is needed to be developed to help educate the medical community on the importance of early referral to help them make early referrals, and to help parents find early intervention resources in their area.
PLAN OF ACTION:
Establish a committee with an identified leader(s) to address early referral.
Identify the primary audiences to be contacted and with whom the committee will work.
Develop an education/marketing plan focused on developing partnerships with the medical community.
Involve the medical community in early intervention systems by inviting them to sit on advisory boards, providing and participating in inservice workshops, and helping them know the systems to which they need to be making referrals.
Develop materials, with the medical community's input, that educate both parents and the medical community about the importance of early referral and intervention. With these materials, develop a plan for dissemination to critical audiences. These materials will include a list of reasons that early referral and intervention are important, and identify available resources to provide early intervention/education services.
Provide inservice workshops for medical society meetings, grand rounds at hospitals, and neonatal nurses' groups.
Where possible, work with medical residency programs to expose and educate residents about the importance of early referral and intervention. A half-day rotation through an early intervention program can be effective.
Develop partnerships with other early intervention/education providers, educating them on the unique aspects of vision loss, the need for specialized services, and local resources.
Develop partnerships with parents that empower them to advocate for early referral and intervention services.
Develop opportunities to publish articles on early identification in intervention and professional and parent newsletters and other publications. Develop partnerships with local newspapers, television, and radio stations to promote community awareness of the need for early referral and intervention.
Consult successful regional and national organizations who have strong early referral systems and relationships with their medical communities.
Develop opportunities for medical communities and parents to become aquatinted with successful adults who are blind or visually impaired, as this can be a powerful tool for changing attitudes.
Be as inclusive of medical, early intervention/education, parent, and consumer communities who have a common goal to help children who are blind/visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities to be all that they can be.
Policies and procedures will be implemented to ensure the right of all families to full participation and equal partnership in the education process.
For many years families have not been equal partners in the education of their children with visual impairments. Families, teachers of children with visual impairments, Orientation & Mobility instructors, regular education teachers, and others must work as a team for any child's individual education plan to be a success. The unique learning needs of each child with a visual impairment must be identified and communicated to all team members to insure success. This can be more complicated when the child has additional disabilities and more professionals are involved in the process.
At home, families reinforce the different methods used by professional team members that enable the child to learn. At school, the professionals reinforce the learning that occurs at home and introduce new concepts and skills as appropriate. Together, families and professionals prepare the child to function at his/her highest level. With this collaborative support children who are visually impaired, including those with additional disabilities, develop independence and self esteem. They become active team members themselves by working with their families and teachers.
Families are initially overwhelmed with the diagnosis of visual impairment whether or not additional impairments are diagnosed.
Families are not viewed as full partners in their child's educational plan.
Families are not taught how to be full partners in the educational process.
Families do not have access or knowledge of existing educational resources.
Families often find themselves without support from others because of the low prevalence of blindness/visual impairment.
Regular education teachers and others may not be aware of the state and federal mandates for family participation in the educational process.
The federal law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), mandates family participation in the planning and implementation of their childrens' education programs. Determine:
The level to which your LEAs, region, and state have implemented and comply with the federal mandates for family participation.
If your state has a family/teacher training center, determine if your state has a federally funded family training project. Determine if families find it easy to be connected to these resources.
How information regarding state and federal laws effecting special education are disseminated. Ascertain if the information is being provided to all families in a language and/or media that they use and understand. The information should be in "family friendly" language not professional jargon. For those families who are blind or visually impaired themselves the materials should be an accessible media such as braille, large print or electronic format.
The extent to which families are fully informed about all placement options including special classrooms and schools (See Goal 5).
The extent to which families are aware of and have access to the core curriculum (See Goal 8).
The information that LEAs are providing to parents regarding other agencies and organizations that could assist families. Such information should include national resources such as the National Association for Parents of the Visually Impaired (NAPVI), and the parent divisions of the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), (See Resource Section).
PLAN OF ACTION
Provide families with information sheets on local, state and national agencies that are potential resources. A range of short fact sheets about resources, including family training centers and programs enable families to get connected with other families. Information sheets can be distributed through SEAs and LEAs.
Refer families to professional and consumer organizations such as the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired [(AER), AFB, ACB, NFB, NAPVI]. (See Acronym and Resource Sections).
Provide families with a copy of the core curriculum for students who are blind/visually impaired (National Agenda and TSBVI's website, and a description of the full array of placement options to assist in choosing the most appropriate placement for their child (A Report to the Nation).
Refer families to training and education opportunities to facilitate learning about their, and their childs', rights and responsibilities under current federal and state special education laws.
Encourage families to educate their legislators regarding: the unique learning needs of children who are visually impaired, including those with additional disabilities; the full array of placement options; the need for materials and appropriate media at the same time as their sighted peers; and, the need for children with visual impairments to receive services from a teacher certified in blindness/visual impairment and a certified Orientation & Mobility instructor.
Inform families of conferences and workshops that will assist them in raising a child with special needs. Let them know that financial assistance may be available from their LEA. Conferences and educational opportunities help to increase knowledge and networks.
Invite families to speak at workshops and conferences for educators and families to share their experiences raising children with visual impairments, including, those with additional disabilities.
Regular education teachers should be encouraged to attend inservice training and workshops given by teachers certified in the education of blind/visually impaired children, and Orientation & Mobility instructors in partnership with families. Other individuals involved in the child's education should also be invited to participate.
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.
A chronic and serious shortage of teachers and orientation and mobility instructors for students with visual impairments exists throughout the nation. There is an urgent need to prepare local teachers to serve local needs.
University administrative support for teacher preparation programs in the area of visual impairments is lacking.
An inconsistent supply of teachers exists across the country.
Not all states have certification standards for teachers of children who are blind/visually impaired.
Few states have orientation & mobility certification.
State certification requirements for teachers of children who are blind/visually impaired are often considerably less than those required by the profession through AER/CEC.
Lack of universal certification reciprocity among states.
Difficulties in recruiting potential teachers and orientation & mobility instructors.
Shortage of qualified university faculty to prepare teachers for children with visual impairments.
Shortage of leadership training programs to prepare qualified university faculty and other leadership personnel.
Most university programs are dependent on federal funding.
Many states do not have university personnel preparation programs in the areas of teaching children, who are blind/visually impaired including those with multiple disabilities, or orientation and mobility. The majority of existing programs are funded through federal grants for which there is much competition and which may not be available in the future. There are critical teacher and O&M instructor shortages in most parts of the country. As a result many children who need specialized services are not receiving instruction in the core curriculum or O&M.
Whether your state/region has enough specially trained/appropriately certified teachers and O&M instructors for its population of children with visual impairments. Refer to A Report to the Nation.
If your state is meeting the demand for qualified teachers and O&M instructors.
If your university teacher training programs in blindness/visual impairment are dependent on federal funding alone. Such dependency puts programs at risk for termination.
If university administrators need to be educated about vision program needs and their anticipated small enrollments so adjustments can be made in full time equivalency (FTE) policies.
The extent to which there are personnel preparation programs at the preservice and inservice levels in your state.
The level of parent and consumer advocacy for hiring qualified and appropriately certified teachers and O&M instructors in your state or region.
The level of shared responsibility (SEA, LEA, consumers and families) in the recruitment of teachers and O&M instructors.
PLAN OF ACTION:
Discuss with university faculty, in your state and region, how consumers, families, and educators can support their programs. Be prepared to advocate with university administrators, state officials, and legislators.
If you do not have a university program for training teachers and O&M instructors in your state, establish a close relationship with whatever university has the most potential to be effective in supplying your state with teachers and O&M instructors.
Explore a variety of approaches to teacher preparation and O&M instructor preparation. Explore alternatives to on-campus, matriculated, full-time students. Consider distance education, summers only programs, part-time students, non-degree certification programs, and extension classes.
Parents, consumers, and professionals should work together with university personnel in advocating for a lower FTE for programs that prepare teachers and O&M instructors for low prevalence disabilities. These programs should not be canceled if their enrollment does not meet overall university class size requirements. Strong advocacy with Boards of Regents and SEAs will be required.
Sometimes faculty are hired directly with university funds and sometimes they are hired with federal grant and/or state contracted funds. Grant and state contract funded positions have no stability or security. Universities usually employ faculty in visual impairment on grant funds if there is federal money supporting the program. If the federal grant ends, so does the program. Many programs have closed because federal funding was discontinued. Discuss with your faculty how you can help in advocating for the moving of grant and contract supported faculty positions to university supported positions. Assurance of a stable program (university funded) facilitates student recruitment.
Explore and implement ways to increase enrollment in personnel preparation programs.
If your state does not require certification of teachers for visually impaired students or O&M instructors, make every effort to change that. Compare the differences between your state certification requirements and those of AER for each of these professions. While stronger certification requirements may work to our disadvantage in the short haul by reducing our supply of teachers, it will help in the long run by assuring that all children are served by qualified teachers.
In recent years, a major source of new teachers who become certified in visual impairments has been experienced classroom teachers and those previously certified in other areas of special education. We can take advantage of this by informing other teachers of the challenges and joys of working with children with visual impairments, and by making it possible for experienced teachers to complete course work and practicum requirements without leaving their homes or jobs.
A teaching credential earned in one state should be acceptable in all states. Full reciprocity among all states needs to be a reality.
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.
Some states have guidelines for determining caseloads and class size for teachers of children with visual impairments. For a review of 46 states' caseload guidelines see A Report to the Nation. Below are factors to consider for ensuring appropriate caseloads and class sizes for teachers of children with visual impairments.
Teachers for children with visual impairments may serve as consultants, itinerants, resource room, or classroom teachers. Each of these service models requires different amounts of direct teaching time with students who are blind/visually impaired.
Many factors need to be considered in determining the amount of time a student needs from a teacher of the visually impaired. The most important factor is what amount of time is needed to provide effective instruction in the core curriculum (See Goal 8). Other factors include geographic distribution of the students, severity of students' visual impairment, age of onset of visual impairment, presence of additional disabilities, and availability of certified teachers/O&M instructors.
Some believe that excessive "pull-out" from regular education classes (removing the student from their regular classroom activity for instruction in the core curriculum) might be detrimental and should therefore be minimized.
Service delivery systems need to be examined, and modified as necessary, to be sure the "frequency and duration" needs for instruction in the core curriculum are met.
Teachers of children with visual impairments need to accept their responsibility for teaching all areas of the core curriculum and to advocate for the needed time with students.
Guidelines for caseloads and class sizes may help LEAs and teachers of blind and visually impaired children to determine the most appropriate service delivery systems.
There is a need to examine the potential benefits of legislation that would "cap" the caseloads and class size of teachers for visually impaired students and for orientation and mobility instructors.
There is no one "best way" for a particular SEA/LEA to determine caseloads. Some states have regulatory language that creates a means by which LEAs can justifiably seek a waiver or extension, while other states have guidelines that allow for flexibility and individualization, while still other states have neither guidelines nor regulations.
Address each major issue to determine the current practice regarding caseloads in your state. Determine if your state has caseload size guidelines for students with visual impairments. Contact your SEA or refer to A Report to the Nation for this information.
Determine the caseload and class size for every teacher and Orientation and Mobility instructor of children who are blind and visually impaired.
Ask teachers and O&M instructors who have large and small caseloads whether they believe their pupil/teacher ratio is adequate to meet their students' core curriculum and O&M learning needs and how much time they spend in direct teaching, consulting, driving, and other activities. Determine if:
There is a difference of opinion between the teachers and administrators regarding appropriate caseload/class size.
All placement alternatives are available to every student, thereby making it possible to change placement if the current one does not allow enough time to meet the student's goals and objectives (See Goal 5).
PLAN OF ACTION:
It will be most helpful to have SEA and LEA administrative representation on any committees or efforts dealing with caseloads. In addition, as with all National Agenda committees, it will be helpful to include parents, consumers, and teachers of blind and visually impaired children and O&M instructors who have different size caseloads and serve in a variety of service delivery systems.
Establish sub committees to address the issues above.
Obtain copies of your state's guidelines, mandates, or regulations regarding class size for students who are blind/visually impaired. Some states will not have disability specific guidelines. You need to determine which ones are in practice.
Discuss the concepts of mandatory caseloads, caseload regulations, caseload guidelines, and identify criteria to include in formulating caseload policy.
Examine IEPs to determine if:
All IEP goals and objectives are being met for each student;
All IEP goals and objectives include adequate frequency and duration of instruction; and,
All core curriculum areas are included as IEP goals and objectives.
Determine which factors the state considers in setting, or should consider when developing, state guidelines/regulations on class size. Such factors might include:
Severity or intensity of student's need; (some states and regions have developed "Severity Rating Scales" to help determine class size and caseload. The authors can provide information on request on this)
Amount of time needed for direct intervention, assessment, teaching, and evaluation;
Core curriculum learning needs;
Amount of time for consultation with parents, classroom teachers, and other service providers; Time needed to secure and prepare specialized material, media, and equipment e.g., braille and adaptive canes; Time needed for supervision of support staff, meetings, report preparation, and professional development; and,
Existing/available service delivery options.
Determine other factors that may be driving caseload decisions such as too few O&M instructors, financial limitations, administrators who are not convinced of the importance of specialized services, and geographic distribution of students, etc. Resulting actions will be dependent on your findings.
Formulate recommendations and approach the SEA/LEA with your findings and recommendations.
Approach the state education legislative committee and/or other appropriate policy makers.
Local education programs will ensure that all students have access to a full array of placement options.
Do the families and caregivers of children with visual impairments receive information about all the placement options available to their child? Children with visual impairments are often placed in settings that fit the availability of teachers of students with visual impairments and/or orientation and mobility instructors. Due to the critical shortages of these professionals and the vast geographic distribution of children, a "full" array of service options is seldom available.
Parents do not always receive information about what constitutes a full array of placement options.
Parents are not informed of the unique learning needs of children with visual impairments including those with multiple impairments.
A full array of placement options does not always exist, especially in suburban, rural or outlying areas.
Parents are often unaware of their rights and their child's rights as they apply to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as defined in IDEA.
Parents are not exposed to, and therefore are not aware of, the accomplishments of children who have successfully completed their educational programs through services offered from a variety of educational placements.
Position papers and policy guidance papers like OSERS' "The Policy Guidance on the Education of Blind or Visually Impaired Students" (Appendix in A Report to the Nation and TSBVI's Website) are not known to or easily assessible to parents or teachers.
In-service training about the unique ways children who are blind/visually impaired learn are not offered, and when they are, regular education teachers are not required to attend.
LEA decision makers are unaware of OSERS' "The Policy Guidance on the Education of Blind or Visually Impaired Students" (Appendix in A Report to the Nation and TSBVI's Website) and the National Agenda.
Results of research, conducted by The New York Institute for Special Education on behalf of the Council of Schools for the Blind, included in A Report to the Nation, demonstrate that nearly three-quarters of over 350 parents reported they were informed of only the placement option the school district recommended. Half of the remaining parents had only two placement options explained to them rather than the full continuum of services. A continuum of placement options should include regular class, resource room, separate class, public special day school, private special day school, public residential, private residential, and home bound/hospital. Determine whether:
Students and parents in your SEA and LEAs have access to a full array of placement options. If not, which ones do they not have and why?
Parents in your SEA and LEAs are aware of why a full array of placement options are not available, for example, teacher shortages, no materials center, no state certification requirements, low incidence, etc.
Parents in your state are able to access materials easily to facilitate informed decisions about placement, for example parent training centers, parent groups, advocacy training, etc.
There is a state approved description available of each placement option, along with strengths and weaknesses of each relative to the needs of children who are blind/visually impaired.
Your IEP team always provides materials describing parent and child rights and due process.
The IEP team includes the parent as a full partner.
Parents are part of the assessment team as it directly relates to placement.
PLAN OF ACTION:
Develop an information package addressed to administrators of regular and special education programs and parents which includes, but is not limited to: all relevant OSEP policy statements (The National Agenda) and TSBVI's Website), all relevant position papers on full array of placement options, Council for Exceptional Children-Division for the Visually Impaired (CEC-DVI) position papers, (See Resources) descriptions of each placement option within the array, description of parents rights and due process with new updated IDEA information.
Provide parents with a list and descriptions, along with strengths and limitations, of each nationally recognized placement option in the continuum of services.
Encourage parents to participate at the local and state level to implement changes in educational programs.
Provide all teachers, involved with visually impaired students, and parents with a copy of the Core Curriculum For Children With Visual Impairments Including Those With Multiple Impairments.
Provide parents with samples of IEP forms, assessment forms, etc. prior to meetings, so they are comfortable with the forms.
Conduct public education campaigns which illustrate personal success stories of youths and adults who are blind and visually impaired and have participated in a variety of educational placements.
Each state is required by IDEA to have an approved three year plan for meeting the needs of the state's children with disabilities. When these plans come up for revision and approval you should insure that the OSERS' Federal Policy Guidance Memorandum and The National Agenda are included, or at least specifically referenced beforeplans are approved.
Assessment of students will be conducted in collaboration with parents, by personnel having expertise in the education of students with visual impairments.
An educator of students with visual impairments and the child's parents must be co-captains of the assessment team. Personnel who administer assessments must understand the needed adaptations of the testing instrument for a child who is visually impaired. If not, the test will not be valid and will not accurately assess the child. Specific instruments that address the learning methods of children with visual impairments are often required. Consistent instruments with standardized terminology addressing every area of the core curriculum are also necessary.
Children with visual impairments must be assessed using assessment tools that recognize the unique differences in the processing of information that children with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities have.
Currently there is no single set of guidelines for selecting and administering assessment instruments and the interpretation of subsequent results.
Currently there is no central resource center for articles, books, and tools that address the assessment needs for children who are visually impaired.
There is no easily accessible list of assessment tools, with descriptions, for use by parents or professionals.
Presently, there are limited training curricula for educators, O&M instructors and related service providers who typically assess children and youths with visual impairments including those with multiple disabilities.
Presently, there are few, if any, training opportunities for teachers of blind and visually impaired, O&M instructors, school psychologists, reading specialists, and other education personnel who are responsible for student assessments.
Assessment tools are used to determine students' abilities in many areas such as academics, psychological, language, motor skills, functional skills, core curriculum and vocation interests, etc. Determine whether:
Your SEA/LEA encourages policies to ensure participation of teachers of students with visual impairments and Orientation and Mobility specialists in assessment processes for all students diagnosed with or suspected to have visual impairments.
Your SEA/LEA uses the core curriculum for students with visual impairments including those with multiple disabilities to select, administer and interpret results.
Training opportunities for individuals in assessing children who are blind or visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities exist in your area on adapting existing assessment tools for use when testing students with visual impairments.
A personnel preparation program exists in your state or neighboring state. Once you locate the closest personnel preparation program, determine their pre and in-service training capabilities with regard to assessment of children who are blind and visually impaired including those with multiple disabilities.
Parents and professionals in your SEA/LEA are aware of the Council for Exceptional Children-Division for Visually Impaired (CEC-DVI) position paper on assessment of children and youths with visual impairments including those with multiple disabilities.
Your SEA/LEA has standardized testing instruments for use with students who are visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities.
The composition of the assessment team in your SEA/LEA is representative of all appropriate individuals including parents.
PLAN OF ACTION:
Parents must be full partners on assessment teams for children with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities. Adaptations of assessments, tools, devices, and the conditions by which assessments are administered are most often necessary for application with children who are blind or visually impaired including those with multiple disabilities.
Encourage SEAs to develop and implement policies to ensure participation of teachers and O&M instructors on assessment teams of children who are blind or visually impaired including those with multiple disabilities.
Develop standardized state adopted testing program guidelines for addressing the needs of students with visual impairments including those with multiple disabilities.
Contact developers of standardized state-adopted testing programs and provide guidelines for addressing the needs of students with visual impairments including those with multiple disabilities.
Develop assessment team training curricula for educators and related service providers who assess children and youths with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.
Develop and distribute a resource list of professionals and parents with expertise in assessment of children who are blind or visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities who can provide consultation and training services.
Facilitate assessment training for regular education, reading and other specialists, and psychologists regarding adaptations needed by students with visual impairments.
Access to developmental and educational services will include an assurance that materials are available to students in the appropriate media and at the same time as their sighted peers.
Essential learning opportunities are seriously forfeited when students who are blind or visually impaired do not receive textbooks, workbooks, maps, tests, etc., in the appropriate media, at the same time as sighted peers. In the course of academic development and the programmed progression of subject matter, blind and visually impaired students are placed in a disadvantageous position when materials are not available for them. The idea that these students will be able to "catch up" once materials are received is misguided, unfair, and largely impossible. When materials are not delivered in a timely manner, gaps in knowledge are routine due to the inability to access the same information as the rest of the class. Untimely delivery and/or lack of materials also has a secondary effect. The implication is that blind and visually impaired students do not really need to learn everything, and, therefore, are not able students. The goal of providing materials in a timely manner is important to the maximum academic success of each individual student who is blind or visually impaired.
Timely delivery of braille, large print, and recorded textbooks.
Timely availability of workbooks, supplementary materials, and recreational reading materials.
Appropriate use of optical devices as a viable alternative medium.
Presentation of visual and graphic materials from textbooks to braille readers.
Use of technology to interface with instructional materials.
Development of national, regional, and local material delivery systems.
Access to textbooks on electronic files.
Many states have an instructional resource (materials) center that coordinates the materials' production, acquisition, and/or distribution of specialized materials in their individual state. These centers have the responsibility for the delivery of large print, braille, and/or recorded materials and often, the coordination of the state's Federal Quota Allocation Program. In order to accomplish their objective, these centers often utilize volunteers for materials production, materials duplication, machine repair and other general services. The state instructional materials center would be the first point of contact for teachers, parents and/or administrators in need of specialized instructional materials.
The organization of persons who have statewide responsibility for the delivery of large print, braille and/or recorded textbooks to school-age visually impaired students is known as The Association of Instructional Resource Centers for the Visually Handicapped (AIRC). As an information sharing organization, AIRC can be very helpful to a state trying to start a new statewide resource center or expand existing services.
As with all National Agenda Committees, it is recommended that committees specific to this goal also engage the services of parents, consumers, and professionals and in addition, secure the assistance of the state instructional materials resource center and braille producers (volunteers/commercial). If your state does not have an instructional materials resource center, request participation from the SEA.
Some states are providing most books and materials in a timely manner, in part because they have legislation that requires the cooperation of textbook publishers. In many states, without such legislation, there are serious problems in getting educational materials to the students. This is particularly true in those states that do not have statewide adoption of school textbooks. States that do not have statewide adoption of textbooks may adopt thousands of textbooks each year requiring the transcription of significantly greater numbers of books needing to be produced in alternate media.
The availability and appropriate use of optical devices instead of large print or recorded material remains a national concern. There is some evidence that the need for large print would be reduced substantially if education programs were established that provided appropriate assessment and training in the use of optical devices. Procurement of large print materials is often difficult, and optical devices might substantially increase the availability of instructional materials at the right time for low vision students.
Current technology has significantly reduced the time needed for materials transcribed in literary braille. Standards for braille production exist for literary braille. A major problem is the production of graphic materials into an accessible and understandable format. In some states, producers of instructional materials have explicit instructions to reproduce, in raised line form, all graphics and pictures from the print text, where as others have none. Our profession has not determined when to use, and when not to use, raised line materials.
The development of "Louis", (a database of instructional materials for children who are blind and visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities), and its continual updating, housed at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), has greatly enhanced the ability of educators to access nationwide sources of materials. States that have instructional resource centers have a significant advantage in producing, storing, locating, and retrieving appropriate materials for visually impaired students. The national and interstate networks are working well, but every state does not have an instructional resource center for children who are visually impaired.
Textbook publishers continue to increase their production of basic textbooks on electronic files and increasingly states are adopting books in this format. Many textbooks produced on CD-ROM are often not compatible with the learning medium required by specific students. With predictions that the majority of school textbooks will be provided to students in electronic file format, accessibility of textbooks will continue to be a serious problem for our students.
Some legislation and current agreements that apply to the production of textbooks do not apply to supplementary materials and workbooks. Therefore, these materials are often difficult to obtain even though a state might have laws pertaining to textbooks.
PLAN OF ACTION:
Survey your SEA/LEAs to ascertain the timely delivery of materials. If children are receiving textbooks, supplementary materials, workbooks, etc. after their sighted classmates, determine why. There is evidence that state legislation may make a difference in this area, and you might want to find out how other states have assured timely delivery of material by passing laws that require students with visual impairments to have instructional materials at the same time as their classmates. Consult your usual and/or nearest providers of braille, large print, or recorded materials and explore ways in which delivery can be expedited.
Determine the classes and the teachers who will have visually impaired students for the coming year. Complete this task by March or April of the year preceding the coming school year. Discuss with classroom teachers the necessity for the student with visual impairments to have learning materials at the same time as sighted classmates. There are teachers who reserve the right to select their books at the beginning of the semester. Many teachers of visually impaired children have discovered that if they emphasize the importance of the child to have the materials in a timely manner, classroom teachers will adjust their schedules. Other roadblocks include state adoption cycle timelines, LEA adoption cycle timelines, individual school adoption cycle timelines, and students' changing schools.
Large print continues to play a major role in our efforts to accommodate instructional materials for low vision children. Some believe that the dependence on large print is, in part, because we have not utilized optical devices to the extent that we should. Optical devices are more versatile than large print books. If children can easily access regular print textbooks by using optical devices, then perhaps in some cases, the use of optical devices is more appropriate than a large print textbook. Ask yourself these questions: Do you have functional and clinical low vision assessment information on your students? Is there an indication that they will benefit from using an optical device? Has an optical device been tried rather than automatically opting for the use of large print books?
Contact SEA/LEA authorities to request training in functional low vision assessments and interventions, and application of optical aids.
Tactile graphics are being increasing used in regular education. Though our capability to produce literary braille has increased dramatically, we now realize that the timely delivery of books is not related solely to literary braille, but to graphics. At the federal and state levels we must explore the role of tactile graphics in the learning of children with blindness or visual impairments. Some professionals and parents have made a distinction between tactile graphics (used in mathematics, science, map reading) and raised line pictures.
If your state is not delivering textbooks in a timely manner to braille reading students, check into the status of the production facility in your state. Maybe your state needs to invest in a high tech production center, or contract with a firm in a neighboring state. It is no longer acceptable that children receive their literary braille instructional materials after their sighted peers.
Establish guidelines for staffing state and regional centers that produce specialized materials.
Assist in the establishment of guidelines that will promote standardization of the production of tactile graphics.
Work with other states to ensure access to all instructional materials by creating uniform access standards for text in braille, large print, recorded, electronic, descriptive video, and on-line formats.
A national repository of electronic files at a single location where we can receive either a file or braille/large print book quickly and efficiently is needed.
There are increasing numbers of books in electronic format. These must be accessible to students who are blind and visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities. Urge textbook publishers to involve us at the birth of a book, not after the fact, when the only hope is retrofitting. Do not assume that books on CD-ROM are accessible to students who are blind/visually impaired.
Materials other than basic textbooks must be available in accessible media. Check your state definition of "textbook" in the education code to determine if it defines workbooks and supplementary materials as part of the term textbook. If so, and your state has legislation requiring that textbooks be made available in braille, large print, and recorded form, point out to the appropriate officials that workbooks and supplementary materials are included in their state definition.
If your state does not have a definition of "textbook" in your state education code consider introducing legislation that would require that all workbooks and supplementary materials be included and therefore available in alternative format.
Facilitate needed accommodation that ensures access to assistive technology and classrooms that have students with visual impairments, and work cooperatively with your IRC.
Educational and developmental goals, including instruction, will reflect the assessed needs of each student in all areas of academic and disability-specific core curricula.
Educators define "core curriculum" as the knowledge and skills expected to be learned by students for high school graduation. Generally the core curriculum consists of academic knowledge and skills. The core curriculum may vary from state to state but it serves in each state as the foundation for learning. The term core curriculum for blind and visually impaired students is being used to define the basic educational needs of these students. Areas of study that are common to visually impaired learners and their sighted peers include: English, Language Arts and other languages, Mathematics, Science, Health, Physical Education, Fine Arts, Social Studies, Economics, Business, Vocational Education, and History. Areas of study that students who are blind or visually impaired that are most often required for successful completion of their education and are not common to their peers include: compensatory or functional academic skills (braille); O&M; social, independent living, recreation, and leisure skills; career education; listening and visual efficiency skills; and use of assistive technology (National Agenda and TSBVI's Website).
The core curriculum for learners who are blind and/or visually impaired has not been fully accepted, therefore not implemented, by many teachers.
Children in inclusive and mainstreamed settings do not have time during the school day for instruction in disability specific core curricula.
Parents are not aware of the core curriculum needs of their children.
Teachers and administrators are not aware of the core curriculum needs of children who are blind and/or visually impaired.
Personnel preparation programs do not adequately train teachers in all the core curriculum areas.
Some teachers not only do not have the skills to teach core curriculum subjects, they do not have the time or resources.
At this time no single, simple method has been developed that ensures students who are blind/visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities, to have access to both traditional and expanded core curricula. The additional experiences contained in the expanded core curricula are not easy to implement as they require time to teach and professionally prepared teachers and O&M instructors to provide appropriate assessments, to develop relevant education plans, and to provide instruction and evaluation in the unique and specialized curricula.
Lack of knowledge and recognition by teachers and administrators that children who are blind/visually impaired have specialized needs.
There is insufficient time during the school day, week, or years, for students in community regular education programs, to complete the traditional and expanded core curricula.
Most parents are not informed advocates for their children. They have little knowledge about the potential needs and abilities of their children. They are not familiar with the core curriculum and are therefore ill-prepared to be effective advocates.
The concept the core curriculum is new to parents and professionals in the education of students who are blind or visually impaired. Continued dissemination about the core curriculum is needed.
University personnel preparation programs need to review their programs and the competencies required for graduation as they relate to teaching the core curriculum.
Teachers and O&M specialists whose caseloads are too high and/or whose geographic area is too large will seldom have time to be anything more than a consultant. Instruction in the core curriculum requires skill in understanding the impact of visual impairment on learning, and it would be seldom appropriate to expect classroom teachers to take responsibility for the core curriculum.
PLAN OF ACTION:
All parents, teachers of blind/visually impaired children and O&M instructors will know the core curriculum and accept responsibility for its implementation.
All teachers and parents will receive information about, and instruction in, the core curriculum, through conferences, meetings, workshops, print or electronic media. State AER chapters, together with local, regional and state NAPVI, ACB, NFB, and other organizations, should be approached to endorse the core curriculum and be provided with information about the National Agenda, A Report to the Nation, and the Call to Action so they can be informed and in turn work for it's implementation. SEAs/LEAs will be asked to endorse or adopt the core curriculum. Systematic monitoring of IEPs will ensure the implementation of the core curriculum. Implementation of the core curriculum will result in a demonstrable difference in the independence, socialization, and employment of former students.
Areas of the expanded core curriculum need to become recognized and have the same status of traditional courses in school.
Subjects in the expanded core curriculum need to be required for students and can be substituted for traditional core courses. Students will be allowed to take fewer semesters of traditional core subjects in order to fit in the expanded core. Subjects, such as "Independent Living Skills" will achieve equal status in importance to, for example, "Social Studies". Instruction in expanded core curriculum areas are required on the student's transcript in order to graduate.
Professionals and informed parents assume responsibility for assisting all parents to become advocates for their children.
Accept the concept that the prepared and informed parent is the professional's strongest ally in the IEP meeting. Professionals and parents set up a systematic process for providing every parent in the state/region with knowledge about the educational needs and opportunities for their children. Conduct informal information sharing and more formal workshops for parents, professionals, and consumers.
Establish a system for developing knowledge and skills relating to the core curriculum with experienced teachers and administrators. Work to include the core curriculum into your state's Comprehensive Systems for Personnel Development (CSPD). Knowledge areas to be addressed include:
What constitutes the core curriculum;
Skills in teaching areas of the core curriculum;
How to orchestrate instruction in all areas of the teacher's responsibility; and,
How administrators can support teachers in the implementation of the core curriculum.
University programs must include skills in teaching the core curriculum in their personnel preparation programs for teachers of children who are blind/visually impaired.
University programs will review required competencies by CEC/AER as they relate to the core curriculum. University programs will modify their curriculum as necessary to include the core curriculum. University programs will facilitate opportunities for student teaching, practica, and internship experiences that provide opportunities to teach the core curriculum to students who are blind/visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities.
Provide teachers with the time and resources to teach the core curriculum.
Some assessment instruments and curriculum materials are available in all areas of the core curriculum. (See reference to Annotated Bibliography of Curriculum Materials, page ) Teachers must have access to these materials through SEAs/LEAs. In addressing the time issue, teachers must first demand a reasonable case load or class size (See Goal 4). Some strategies to consider include: Teachers work a flex day, allowing time to teach core subjects in settings that make the most sense such as the community and home. Slow down students' schedules, allowing them to take two- to- three years longer to graduate. Consider enrollment in a special school for children who are blind/visually impaired for one or two years, to concentrate on subjects in the expanded core curriculum. Extended school year (ESY) or summer programs and other possible short term programs might address some of the need for time to teach the core curriculum.
To not teach the core curriculum because there is insufficient time is not an option. The expanded core curriculum needs to be accepted as required for graduation for all students who are blind or visually impaired.
Join the National Agenda movement. Address the goals that are most critical for the infants, toddlers, children and youths who are blind and visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities in your state.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: We would like to acknowledge the contributions of the National Agenda's Steering Committee and the National Goal Leaders, without their diligence and commitment this Call To Action would not be possible.
ACB--American Council of the Blind
AER--Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired
AFB--American Foundation for the Blind
AIRC--Association of Instructional Resource Centers for the Visually Handicapped
APH -- American Printing House for the Blind
CEC--Council for Exceptional Children
CEC-DVI--Council for Exceptional Children-Division for the Visually Impaired
CSPD--Comprehensive System for Personnel Development
FTE--Full Time Equivalency
IDEA-- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
IEP-- Individualized Education Program
IRC--Instructional Resource Centers
LEA--Local Educational Agency (School District, Cooperative, and County)
NA--National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments Including Those with Multiple Disabilities
NAPVI--National Association for Parents of the Visually Impaired
NFB--National Federation of the Blind
NGL--National Goal Leader for National Agenda
NLS-- Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
O&M-- Orientation and Mobility
OSEP--Office of Special Education Programs (U.S. Department of Education)
OSERS-- Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Programs (U.S. Department of Education)
TSBVI--Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
TVI-- Teacher of the Visually Impaired Resources
American Council for the Blind 1155 15th Street, N.W. Suite 720 Washington, DC 20005 (202) 467-5081 (800) 424-8666 (202) 467-5085 fax Website: http://www.acb.org
American Foundation for the Blind 11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300 New York, NY 10001 (212) 502-7600 (800) 232-5463 (212) 502-7777 fax Website: http://www.afb.org
American Printing House for the Blind 1839 Frankfort Avenue Post Office Box 6085 Louisville, KY 40206-0085 (502) 895-2405 (800) 223-1839 (502) 899-2274 fax Website: http://www.aph.org
Council for Exceptional Children 1920 Association Drive Reston, VA 20191-1589 (703) 620-3660 (800) 328-0272 (703) 264-9494 fax Website: http://www.cec.sped.org
Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped 1291 Taylor Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20542 (202) 707-5100 (800) 424-8567 (202) 707-0712 fax Website: http://www.loc.gov/nls
National Association for Parents of the Visually Impaired P.O. Box 317 Watertown, MA 02272-0317 (800) 562-6265 (617) 972-7444 fax National Federation of the Blind 1800 Johnson Street Baltimore, MD 21230 (410) 659-9314 (410) 685-5653 fax Website: http://www.nfb.org
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexia 20 Roszel Road Princeton, NJ 08540 (609) 452-0606 (800) 221-4792 (609) 987-8116 fax Website: http://www.rfbd.org
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired 1100 West 45th Street Austin, TX 78756 (512) 454-8631 (512) 206-9242 (512) 454-3395 fax (512) 206-9320 fax Website: http://www.tsbvi.edu
Corn, A.L., Hatlen, P., Huebner, K.M., Ryan, F., & Siller, M.A. (1995). The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities. New York: AFB Press.
Corn, A.L. & Huebner, K.M. (Eds.), (1998). A Report to the Nation: The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities. New York: AFB Press.
Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Policy Statements: "Policy Guidance on Educating Blind and Visually Impaired Students" in A Report to the Nation: The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities. New York: AFB Press, and Educating Blind and Visually Impaired Students: Policy Guidance from OSERS.