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Improving Education for Individuals with Visual Impairments.
 

An Open Letter to Parents, Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments, and Stakeholders in the Field of Education of Children with Visual Impairments

This letter is in response to efforts to create state laws that can have a profound impact on the determination of learning and literacy media of children with visual impairments, including those with additional exceptionalities.

We the undersigned educators, university personnel, and stakeholders support:

  • Fair and appropriate assessment of all learners who have visual impairments, including those students with multiple exceptionalities;
  • Development of valid and reliable evidence-based learning media assessments (LMAs) based on research-based practices (Erin & Koenig, 1997; Heller, D’Andrea & Forney, 1998; Holbrook, 2009; Koenig & Holbrook, 1995; Lusk & Corn, 2006; McKenzie, 2007, 2009), as outlined in the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (Lusk, Lawson & McCarthy, 2013) position paper, Literacy Decisions for Students with Visual Impairments. Teachers of students with visual impairments should have access to multiple assessments which prepare them  to evaluate students for and provide students with (where determined appropriate):
  1. Instruction in braille and the use of braille unless the IEP Team determines, after an evaluation of the student's reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the student's future needs for instruction in braille or the use of braille), that instruction in braille or the use of braille is not appropriate for the child;
  2. Instruction in print with or without optical and/or electronic devices after a clinical low vision evaluation of the student’s potential for using vision to access appropriate general education reading and writing materials at near and at a distance; and
  3. Instruction in both braille and print (known as dual media) with or without prescribed optical and/or electronic devices, after evaluations described above in (I) and (II), and combining the instructional approaches defined above in (I) and (II).

We the undersigned, feel compelled to alert families and educators to the intent of legislation that has been adopted in Mississippi and proposed in Missouri and Virginia that leads to the use of a single and specific assessment, the National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA) as described by Bell, Ewell, and Mino (2013).

  • Mississippi’s House Bill 960, passed in 2012, amends Mississippi’s education code to “require assessments for students [with visual impairments] to include a minimum research-based learning media assessment”;
  • Missouri House Bill 2569 Section A 167.225 called specifically for the use of the NRMA as described by Bell, Ewell, and Mino (2013) as the required assessment of a child’s learning medium.
  • In 2014, Virginia Senate Bill 291 and Virginia House Bill 228 specified the use of the NRMA when conducting an evaluation.
  • The language of recent Virginia House Bill 166 is also of concern in that this bill seeks to amend the Code of Virginia §22.1-177 in a way that effectively requires teachers’ conducting learning media assessments to use a prescribed assessment tool: the NRMA. The specific language of concern is: (i) a literacy assessment that is research- based, data-driven, and validated and that results in objective recommendations;”

Our intent is to ensure that any assessment of a child’s learning media meets the criteria outlined in the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AERBVI; Lusk, Lawson & McCarthy, 2013) position paper, Literacy Decisions for Students with Visual Impairments. To date, the NRMA is the only learning media assessment that claims to be research-based, data-driven, and validated (Bell, Ewell, and Mino, 2013). However, as we discuss below, the NRMA does not meet professionally accepted criteria for validation and is lacking important characteristics required to support the designation research-based.

Redundancy of state laws: Evidence-based assessment is already mandated by Federal Law.

The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (Public Law 108- 446), emphasizes the use of evidenced-based assessments. While stakeholders in the education of children with visual impairments are committed to the use of evidence-based assessments, to date, there are no learning media assessments for children with visual impairments that both (a) meet academically accepted and rigorous statistical tests of validity and reliability and (b) comply with assurances for individualized accommodations.

Challenges to claims that a learning media assessment has established both reliability and validity for children with visual impairments.

Bell, Ewell, and Mino (2013) have stated that the NRMA has both reliability and validity for students with visual impairments. To this claim we offer the following objections:

  • The population of students with visual impairments is highly diverse in terms of age, grade, eye condition etiology, student ability, the presence of additional qualifying conditions and the nature of those exceptionalities;
  • According to, Musgove and Yudin (2013), visual impairment is a low-incidence disability impacting 0.07% of all school-age students. The 0.07% includes both children with low vision and the smaller subset of children who are considered to be “blind”;
  • Historically, researchers in the field of visual impairment and blindness have been challenged to obtain the large sample numbers necessary to establish statistical significance in test instrument validation and reliability studies.
  • To date, the research conducted on the NRMA has not provided acceptable evidence of reliability and validity for the diverse population of students with visual impairments. Among many concerns are the limited publicized research findings on the NRMA, the lack of sufficient details about previous research to enable study replication, and the lack normative data about the NRMA by student age, eye condition, and presence or absence of additional exceptionalities.

Concerns about the compliance with IDEA’s provisions for fair and appropriate assessment.

When children are assessed with the NRMA, teachers are given instructions counter to the provisions of IDEA (which mandates that children receive their IEP or 504 accommodations when taking tests).  According the NRMA Quick Start Guide the assessment is to be administered under standardized conditions of “18-point font, normal lighting, and good posture” to ensure “that the assessment results will provide the student’s educational team with the information they need to make crucial decisions about the child’s educational needs” (NRMA Quick Start Guide, “The Importance of Standardized Conditions”, paragraph 1).

Essentially, this means that children taking the NRMA are being assessed for their print reading efficiency, without being permitted to use their classroom and testing accommodations. They are not allowed to:

  • Use their prescribed optical and/or electronic devices, or other assistive technologies;
  • Alter their reading distance from the page, even if they are using bifocal lenses that require a shorter reading distance requiring them to lean forward toward the reading material;
  • Alter or use devices to adjust lighting based on their visual needs (this is especially problematic for students with light sensitivity or those who need additional lighting); or
  • Use a size of print other than 18 pt. print. This is especially problematic for students who have sufficient acuity for standard print, for those with visual field problems, and for those for whom 18 pt. print is not an effective or appropriate accommodation.

These instructions to deny students’ accommodations are counter to best practices in the field and are counter to the assurances provided by IDEA for fair assessment.

It is for these reasons that we encourage families and teachers to advocate for fair and appropriate assessment of all children with visual impairments by:

  • Learning about the LMA process and what IDEA mandates as fair and appropriate assessment protocols.
  • Becoming familiar with published research on LMA and the interpretation of those assessment results for students with visual impairments (a short list is provided below).
  • Educating legislators about the unique assessment and educational needs of the highly heterogeneous and diverse population of children who have visual impairments.
  • Advocating for fair and appropriate assessment of children’s learning media. We are asking you to add your support to the signature-list below.

With your support we will ask AERBVI to clarify the appropriate and effective practices assessing the learning media of children with blindness or visual impairments.

We will also share this letter and encourage everyone to share this letter with other stakeholders invested in the education and assessment of children with visual impairments, including those with additional exceptionalities to ensure these organizations are aware of the legislative issues discussed herein. These stakeholders include: the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), American Council of the Blind (ACB), and Council for Exceptional Children Division on Visual Impairments and Deafblindness (CEC-DVI/DB), Council of Schools and Services for the Blind (COSSB), and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). We will ask for their support in promoting the use of multiple appropriate assessments to determine the most effective learning media for individual students who are blind or visually impaired.

We will also ask these organizations to share our joint concerns with state law makers and help legislators understand the dangers of limiting the tools available to teachers in their evaluation  of the literacy needs of the complex and heterogeneous population of children who are identified as having blindness or visual impairment.

If you and/or your organization is in support of this position as discussed above, please input your name, organization name, position/title, contact information, and any other commentary by  June 30, 2016 on the following Google Form: Support Signatures for LMA Letter (http://goo.gl/forms/Kw7MjuzTo6A1j0ha2).

The letter can also be viewed in the following Google Drive Folder: LMA Assessment Position  Letter 2016 (https://drive.google.com/open?id=0ByK-cMd0P8XjSkRhdGYwZnRjVm8).

Please email any questions or concerns to: oalanda@ilstu.edu.

Please include in the Subject Line: LMA Assessment Position Letter Questions/Concerns

Thank you,

LMA Assessment Position Letter Committee:

Olaya Landa-Vialard, Ph.D., TVI, Bilingual Educational Diagnostician Assistant Professor of Low Vision and Blindness
Illinois State University oalanda@ilstu.edu
Chair, LMA Assessment Position Letter Committee

Kathryn D Botsford, Ph.D., TVI, COMS, NBPTS: ENECYA-VI
Assistant Research Professor Visually Impaired Learner Program Portland State University
Co-Chair, LMA Assessment Position Letter Committee

Kimberly Avila, Ph.D., TVI, COMS Assistant Professor/Coordinator
Virginia Consortium for Teacher Preparation in Vision Impairment Member, LMA Assessment Position Letter Committee

Anne L. Corn, Ed.D.
Research Professor (Volunteer), Department Of Ophthalmology, University of Cincinnati
Professor Emerita, Departments of Special Education, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Vanderbilt University Member, LMA Assessment Position Letter Committee

Holly M. Lawson, Ph.D.
Coordinator, Visually Impaired Learner Program Portland State University
Member, LMA Assessment Position Letter Committee

Sandra Lewis, Ed.D. Coordinator and Professor Visual Disabilities Program Florida State University slewis@fsu.edu
Member, LMA Assessment Position Letter Committee

Tessa McCarthy, Ph.D., TVI, COMS
Assistant Professor/Coordinator of the Vision Studies Program University of Pittsburgh
Member, LMA Assessment Position Letter Committee


Resources

Bell, E. C., Ewell, J. V., & Mino, N. M. (2013). National reading media assessment: Complete report. Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, 3(2). Retrieved from https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/jbir/jbir13/jbir030201abs.html. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5241/2F3-37

Castellano, C. (2013). The National Reading Media Assessment. Retrieved January 31, 2015 from https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr32/1/fr320102.htm

Erin, J., & Koenig, A. (1997). The student with a visual disability and a learning disability.

Journal of Learning Disabilities, 30(3), 309-320. http://ldx.sagepub.com/content/30/3/309.full.pdf+html

Heller, K. W., D’Andrea, F. M., & Forney, P. E. (1998). Determining reading and writing media for individuals with visual and physical impairments. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 92(3), 162-175.

Holbrook, M. C. (2009). Supporting students’ literacy through data-driven decision-making and ongoing assessment of achievement. Journal of Visual Impairment &  Blindness, 103(3), 133-136.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) of 2004. Public Law 108- 446 (20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq.)

Koenig, A. J. & Holbrook, M. C. (1995). Learning Media Assessment for Students with Visual Impairments: A Resource Guide for Teachers. Austin: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Lusk, K. E., & Corn, A. L. (2006). Learning and using print and braille: A study of dual-media learners, part 1. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 100(10). Retrieved from https://www.afb.org/afbpress/pubjvib.asp?DocID=jvib001007

Lusk, K., Lawson, H., & McCarthy, T. (2013). Literacy media for students with visual impairments: A position paper of the association for education and rehabilitation of the blind and visually impaired. Retrieved from http://tech.aph.org/cvi/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/LITERACY-MEDIA-DECISIONS-FOR-STUDENTS-WITH-VISUAL-IMPAIRMENTS.pdf

McKenzie, A. R. (2007). The use of learning media assessments with students who are deaf-blind. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 101(10), 587-600.

McKenzie, A.R. (2009). Practice report: Unique considerations for assessing the learning media of students who are deaf-blind. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 103(4), 241-245.

Mississippi House Bill No. 0960 Section A 037-0023-0193. Retrieved from http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/2012/pdf/history/HB/HB0960.xml

Missouri House Bill No. 2569 Section A 167.225. Retrieved from http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills161/billpdf/intro/HB2569I.PDF and http://www.house.mo.gov/billsummary.aspx?bill=HB2569

Musgrove, M., & Yudin, M. K., (June 19, 2013). OSEP Dear Colleague Letter on Braille. Retrieved November 21, 2014. from https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCcQFjAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww2.ed.gov%2Fpolicy%2Fspeced%2Fguid%2Fidea%2Fmemosdcltrs%2Fbrailledcl-6-19-13.doc&ei=KM5vVJf9DZGaigK8xIDABQ&usg=AFQjCNHLo6cd4Kqec0_g3eHgKIBJS_LuAA&bvm=bv.80185997,d.cGE

National Federation of the Blind (n.d.). NRMA: National Reading Media Assessment quick start guide. Retrieved June 5, 2016 from https://www.nfbnrma.org/admin/users/nrma-quick-start-guide-accessible.pdf

Virginia HB 166. Retrieved May 8, 2016 from http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?161+ful+HB166

Virginia SB 291 Retrieved June 13, 2016 from https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?141+ful+SB291+pdf

Virginia HB 228. Retrieved June 13, 2016 from https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?141+ful+HB228

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