Premier’s Special Education Scholarship Special education models for students with vision impairment in the United States Shauna Crawford Bass Hill Public School Sponsored by Focus of the study The five-week scholarship study involved travel to several cities and states in the United States, including Boston in Massachusetts, Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, New York City, and Los Angeles and San Francisco in California. The focus of the scholarship was to view models of special education for children with vision impairment and blindness. This included discussion on school-based programs and the use of Braille and related resources in the classroom. The range of schools included preschools and elementary, middle and high schools. The children were enrolled in public, private and residential schools for the blind and vision impaired. The study also included visits to universities and colleges which were involved in research in vision impairment and Braille studies, teacher training, and professional development of teachers and administrators. Definitions of vision impairment There are two common ways of defining vision impairment and blindness in the United States. The medical or legal definition describes vision acuity as 20/200 (measured in feet) or less in the better eye with correction, or a vision field subtending an angle of 20 degrees or less. This definition is still widely used in the medical profession and may be used in the rehabilitation of adults. The second way of defining vision impairment, which is used for children with vision impairment, uses the terms ‘functionally blind’ or ‘functionally with low vision’. Functionally blind children are those whose primary avenues of learning are tactual and auditory, while those who are functionally with low vision have a vision impairment that affects learning but who still use vision as their primary avenue of learning. There are many variations of these definitions and the legal definition of blindness is not an accurate measure when determining educational decisions for children, especially about the learning media of Braille, print, or both (Pugh & Erin, 1999). In regard to the forms of vision impairments, Ferrell (1998) found that optic nerve hypoplasia and albinism were the most frequent visual diagnoses in children who did not have additional disabilities, whereas children with severe multiple disabilities were most often diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity and cortical vision impairment. Studies indicated that from 56 to 64 per cent of young children with vision impairment have additional disabilities (Ferrell, 1998; Robinson, Jan & Kinnis, 1987). Legislation on individuals with disabilities In the United States, the combination of litigation, state legislation and pressure from advocacy groups culminated in the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-142), which was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA (Public Law 101-476) in 1990, and amended in 1997 (Public Law 105-17). It ensures a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment for children with disabilities. The IDEA amendments of 1997 define children with vision impairment as having an impairment which even with correction adversely affects their educational performance (Pugh & Erin, 1999; Sacks, 1998). Legislation to support early intervention programming for young children with disabilities and their families required expansion of services within public school programs to support the needs of children from birth through to age three. Public law 99-457 (Part H) created a framework for service delivery which emphasised the need for specialised assessment and instruction of young children with vision impairment and other disabilities (Sacks, 1998). The 1997 amendments of IDEA (Public Law 105-17, Part C) specified that services (including vision services and orientation and mobility) be delivered to infants with disabilities and to those who are at risk for developmental delay from birth through to three years. Those eligible infants and their families are required to receive a multidisciplinary assessment and to have an Individualised Family Service Plan (IFSP) developed (Pogrund, 2002). In 1995, the US Department of Education issued a document on the Policy Guidance for educating students with vision impairment and blindness (Heuman & Heir, 1995, as cited in Pugh & Erin, 1999). The policy was in support of appropriate assessment performed by professionals with knowledge of vision impairment; literacy instruction, especially in braille reading and writing, and instruction in orientation and mobility (O & M) by qualified professionals. In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act (Public Law 107- 110) reauthorized a number of federal programs that aimed to improve the performance of primary and secondary school students by increasing the standards of accountability for states, school districts and schools, as well as providing parents more flexibility in choosing which schools their children will attend. Over the past 15 years, there has been greater focus on providing high-quality instruction for students in Braille literacy programs. A significant number of authorities have expressed concerns about the low level of literacy skills with Braille using students, including the assessment and instructional practices used to teach Braille literacy skills (Ryles, 1996; Spungin, 1990). Koenig & Holbrook (2000) have identified 12 areas of Braille literacy skills which vary in consistency and intensity depending upon the skill area to be addressed and the individual needs of the child. Models of special education: vision assessment and teams The IDEA amendments of 1997 (PL 105-17) defines a specific process before a student with a suspected disability receives educational services. The sequence of events involves four steps (Pugh & Erin, 1999; Lewis & Russo, 1998): Identification; Comprehensive assessment of needs; Determination of short and long term goals (Individual Education Program); Placement. Identification and referral is usually from the parent, caregiver or a person in a professional position. Comprehensive assessment is necessary for four reasons: screening, determining exceptionality and eligibility, instructional planning and placement, and evaluation of the child’s progress. Eligibility for special education services is dependent upon the student having identified exceptionality and special learning needs as described and defined in IDEA. The Individual Education Program (IEP) team is responsible for determining the child’s exceptionality and eligibility. The team determines the scope of the assessment based upon referral information and preliminary screening results. Several assessments are required—a medical and ophthalmologic assessment and a functional vision assessment. In order to determine the child’s special learning needs, an assessment of academic performance, potential and learning style is required. The assessment must also include particular skill areas, specific for children with vision impairment. In accordance with IDEA, students with disabilities must be assessed by individuals who have knowledge about that disability (34 CFR 300.532). It is the usual process for a credentialed vision teacher to be an active participant on the IEP team to prepare, conduct, and interpret the results of assessments (Pugh & Erin, 1999; Lewis & Russo, 1998). Comprehensive assessment identifies the child’s strengths and weaknesses, which assists the IEP team to prioritise their educational needs. Determining the appropriate placement is strongly linked to the assessments conducted for the educational planning process (Curry & Hatlen, 1988). Three team models are formed for assessment, planning, instructional design, discussion and support, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary. A multidisciplinary team model is based upon a medical approach in which assessment and instruction are conducted outside the classroom, and there is no collaboration or sharing of instruction among the professionals. The interdisciplinary team model is based upon independent assessments in which the entire team works together to develop goals and instructional planning. Direct instruction, particularly for specialised skills and activities, may occur in isolation of other educational contexts rather than working together to initiate a consistent teaching approach. The transdisciplinary team model places the student as the primary focus and decisions regarding assessment, instruction, placement and IEP goals are made by the team as a whole. The team members work together to complete assessments and decide who will provide the instruction, and in which environment. Related-services personnel (such as vision teacher, O & M specialist or a therapist) work in the classroom or in the community (Sacks, 1998). In accordance with the regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Act, the Policy Guidance Paper issued by the US Department of Education (Heuman & Heir, 1995, as cited in Corn & Huebner, 1998), state legislation, and Goal 5 (McMahon, 1998) of the National Agenda, it is acknowledged that in order to provide children with vision impairment a free and appropriate education, a range of placement options is needed. Placement options are as follows (McMahon, 1998): Regular classroom: Children receive the majority of their education program in regular classes and may receive special education outside the classroom for no more than 21 percent of the school day. Resource room: Children receive their education program in a resource room and in regular classes. They may receive special education outside the regular classroom for at least 21 percent but no more than 60 percent of the school day. Separate class: Children receive their education program in separate classes outside the regular classroom for more than 69 percent of the school day. (This does not include children in separate day or residential schools, which may be public or private). Public separate school facility: Children receive services in a public separate day school for greater than 50 percent of their school day. Private separate school facility: Children receive services in a private separate day school at public expense for greater than 50 percent of their school day. Public residential facility: Children receive services in a public residential school for greater than 50 percent of their school day. Private residential facility: Children receive services in a private residential school at public expense for greater than 50 percent of their school day. Homebound and hospital placement: Children receive services in their home or in hospital. Residential and day schools for the blind and vision impaired offer a variety of services for children attending public and private schools in the state in which they live (for instance, academic programs, alternative academic programs, Braille specific literacy and numeracy programs, technology programs, extended day programs, extended year programs, summer programs, sport and recreation programs and camps). These schools also provide a consultation process for parents, teachers, administrators, schools, other agencies and community outreach services. Specialised personnel perform functional vision assessments for students as a service. These schools are also venues for in- servicing teachers and other personnel involved with children who have vision impairment. Special education curriculum models Children with vision impairment in inclusive education classrooms require adaptation (Braille or large print) of the core curriculum or academic subjects studied from kindergarten through to high school graduation. These children also require competencies in an expanded core curriculum. The expanded core curriculum is considered a unique educational curriculum for students with vision impairment who are learning to access information that is acquired casually and incidentally by sighted learners. The expanded core curriculum consists of: Compensatory academic skills, including communication modes; Social interaction skills; Recreation and leisure; Use of assistive technology; Orientation and mobility; Independent living skills; Career education; Visual efficiency training (Hatlen, 1996). In an endeavour to address the educational needs of children with vision impairment, Corn and Huebner (1998), in the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, defined the expanded core curriculum as a set of priorities stated as goals which apply to infants, toddlers, and youths with vision impairment, including those with multiple disabilities. These goals have been widely acknowledged as the critical issues confronting the quality of education for children with vision impairment (including Braille and large print learners). The goals are as follows: Goal 1: Students and their families will be referred to an appropriate education program within 30 days of the identification of suspected vision impairment. Goal 2: Policies and procedures will be implemented to ensure the right of all parents to full participation in the education process. Goal 3: Universities with a minimum of one full-time faculty member in the area of vision impairment will prepare a sufficient number of educators in the area of vision impairment to meet personnel needs throughout the country. Goal 4: Service providers will determine caseloads based upon the needs of students and will require ongoing professional development for all teachers and O & M instructors. Goal 5: Local education programs will ensure that all students have access to a full array of placements options. Goal 6: Assessments of students will be conducted in collaboration with parents by personnel having expertise in the education of students with vision impairments. Goal 7: Access to development 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. Goal 8: Educational and developmental goals, including instruction, will reflect the assessed needs of each student in all areas of academic and disability-specific core curricula (Corn & Huebner, 1998). In the delivery of the expanded core curriculum for students with vision impairment, Hatlen (1996) affirms that the additional learning experiences contained in the expanded core curriculum are not easy to implement. The components of the curriculum require time to teach and their importance does not diminish with age or competency. The certified vision teacher is responsible for the assessment, instruction and evaluation of the curricular areas. Programming is necessary to accommodate the time involved in addressing the competencies required in this curriculum. Children need to have the necessary transition skills to progress from school to adulthood (Hatlen, 1996). In a national survey of the current level of instruction in the core curriculum, Hatlen (1998) identified barriers to providing the core curriculum: Caseloads of vision teachers were too large, and therefore, insufficient time to consider the expanded core curriculum. Academic issues were considered more highly than issues related to the core curriculum. Assessment materials were not adequate or available to address the core curriculum. There was a lack of recognition of the student’s special needs from administrators. Hatlen (1996) suggested some options for overcoming these barriers: Summer school programs; Schools for the blind; Extended year and or an extended day; In-servicing for administrators, policy makers, and teachers; More placement options for students. Conclusion and recommendations Ongoing professional development of vision staff at a team or district level, at a regional level, and at a state level. This includes greater links with universities or colleges involved in the research of vision impairment and Braille instruction for teacher training of vision staff, and links with private institutions involved in the teaching of children with severe vision impairment or blindness. Collaboration with private institutions involved in the services of children and adults with severe vision impairment and blindness. Continued focus on the academic curriculum and the expanded core curriculum for students with vision impairment and blindness. International links with selected residential schools for the blind in the United States or other countries for the sharing of ideas, knowledge, expertise and resources. The proportion of students who have vision impairment and other disabilities continues to grow. Recognition and understanding the unique needs of these children assists with quality programming and instruction. In conclusion, collaboration and professional development are the keys to successful special education practice. References Corn, A.L., & Huebner, K.M. (ed). (1998). A report to the nation: The national agenda for the education of children and youths with visual impairment, including those with multiple disabilities. NY: AFB Press. Curry, S.A., & Hatlen, P.H. (1998). ‘Meeting the unique educational needs of visually impaired pupils through appropriate placement’, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 82, 417–424. Ferrell, K.A. (1998). Project PRISM: A longitudinal study of developmental patterns of children who are visually impaired (final report). Greeley’s Division of Special Education, University of Northern Colorado. Hatlen, P. (1996). ‘The core curriculum for blind and visually impaired students, including those with additional disabilities’, RE:view, 28, 25–32. Hatlen, P. (1998). ‘Goal 8: Educational and developmental goals, including instruction, will reflect the assessed needs of each student in all areas of academic and disability- specific core curricula. (The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired)’. In: A. Corn and K. Huebner (eds), A report to the nation: The national agenda for the education of children with visual impairment, including those with multiple disabilities. NY: AFB Press, pp. 50– 52. Koenig, A.J., & Holbrook, M.C. (2000). ‘Ensuring high-quality instruction for students in braille literacy programs’, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, Nov., 677–694. Lewis, S., & Rosso, R. (1998). ‘Educational assessment for students who have visual impairment and other disabilities’. In: S.Z. Sacks and R.K. Silberman (eds), Educating students who have visual impairments with other disabilities. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes, pp 39–57. McMahon, E. (1998). ‘Goal 5: Local education programs will ensue that all children have access to a full array of placements. (The New York Institute for Special Education)’. In: A. Corn and K. Huebner (eds), A report to the nation: The national agenda for the education of children with visual impairment, including those with multiple disabilities. NY: AFB Press, pp. 50– 52. Pogrund, R.L. (2002). ‘Refocus: Setting the stage for working with young children who are blind or visually impaired’. In: R.L. Pogrund & D.L. Fazzi (eds), Early focus: Working with young children who are blind or visually impaired and their families. NY: AFB Press, pp 1–15. Pugh, G.S., & Erin, J. (eds) (1999). Blind and visually impaired students: Educational service guidelines. Watertown, MA: Perkins School for the Blind. Robinson, G.C., Jan, J.E., & Kinnis, C. (1987). ‘Congenital ocular blindness in children: 1945 to 1984’, American Journal of Diseases of Children, 147, 1321–1324. Ryles, R. (1996). ‘The impact of braille reading skills on employment, income, education and reading habits’, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 90, 219–226. Sacks, S.Z. (1998). ‘Educating students who have visual impairments with other disabilities’. In: S.Z. Sacks, and R.K. Silberman (eds), Educating students who have visual impairments with other disabilities. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes, pp 3–38. Spungin, S.J. (1990). Braille literacy: Issues for blind persons, families, professionals and producers of braille. NY: AFB Press.
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