Assessments for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Before your child begins to receive any kind of instruction, it's important to find out what she needs to learn and the best way for her to learn it. In that sense, assessment—the formal process of finding out someone's strengths and needs in a particular area—is at the heart of all instruction, because it allows an appropriate educational program to be planned.
Importance of Specialized Assessment
Your child will undergo some specialized assessments that relate specifically to her visual impairment. These are generally conducted by the teacher of students with visual impairments and are required by the federal law governing special education. Becoming familiar with these assessments and the information that is gathered from each of them will help you to understand the particular recommendations made by members of your child's educational team. Recommendations for services for your child should be based on her needs as determined through assessment.
Your permission is required in order for your child to be assessed. To determine if your child's needs will be served by an assessment, it is important to ask questions of any professional who seeks your permission to test or observe your child. Find out:
- the purpose of the assessment
- who will be conducting the assessment and whether this person is certified to work with visually impaired students
- how the information will be used
- where you can learn more about the specific test and the procedure used.
After an assessment is conducted, keep in mind that you should get a copy of any report and recommendations that are produced and save this material for your files.
After reviewing the assessment report, ask the person who conducted it any questions that you may have. Assessment reports should contain not only the information gathered from any tests, but also recommendations for how to address any needs your child may have, required adaptations or equipment, and effective instructional strategies.
There are two key assessments the teacher of students with visual impairments conducts that help form the basis of your child's educational program. These are the functional vision assessment (FVA), which explores how your child uses any vision she may have, and the learning media assessment (LMA), which examines the way in which your child uses her senses to obtain information and indicates the most effective ways in which she can be taught reading and other skills. In addition to these two pivotal assessments, key assessments that are unique to visually impaired children are the orientation and mobility (O&M) assessment to determine whether your child needs training in learning how to move through the environment, and the assistive technology assessment, used to identify what kinds of assistive technology may be most helpful for your child.
Your child is also likely to receive a number of assessments that don't relate directly to her vision, such as developmental assessments (particularly for infants or young children), to see how she is progressing in acquiring basic skills such as rolling over, sitting, talking, and so forth. In addition, some form of psychological or psychoeducational tests are required by most school districts as part of the evaluation for special education services. Intelligence tests are usually included in the psychological evaluation. These tests are routine and in no way imply that there is something wrong with your child's thinking or mental stability. Rather, they are intended to provide a more complete description of your child's learning abilities and needs to help her educational team determine what specialized services she requires. If your child has other disabilities, she may receive other types of assessments as well, such as a hearing test or a speech and language assessment.
It is important to note that in most school systems, the psychologists and other individuals who conduct assessments such as these have little experience with visually impaired students. There tend to be fewer of these students compared to students with other disabilities. In addition, many of the standard assessment tests and instruments that they use are not geared to the needs of children with visual impairments—for example, they may require your child to respond to pictures, or the expected results may be based on development patterns that are not typical for visually impaired children. Therefore, it's important for the teacher of students with visual impairments to be involved when these types of evaluations are conducted to provide suggestions about appropriate assessment procedures and help interpret the results. It's also important for you to remember that as a parent, you too are part of your child's educational team and can contribute information about your child if you have concerns about the assessment process.