The first step to knowing where you’re going is knowing where you are.
No, that isn’t a famous quote...just one of those fleeting thoughts that entered my head when I was sitting down to write this article. Admittedly, it isn’t as profound as anything by Plato or Maya Angelou, but it’s how I think about assessments.
You can’t plan a trip or even choose a destination without having some idea of your starting point. Assessments are just one way of nailing down that starting point.
Why Conduct an AT Assessment?
The “why” of an AT assessment is fairly simple, yet it is is more complex than “because my student is due for a 3-year re-evaluation and it seemed like a good idea.”. Assessments are meant to be meaningful and convey information that is useful. Otherwise it is nothing more than words on a paper that is filed away and a waste of time for the teachers and, most importantly, for the student.
A formal (written) technology assessment is generally conducted for one of three reasons:
- To document/determine if the technology being used is appropriate
- To document/determine whether technology is being used appropriately/correctly
- To document/determine if use of new AT would be appropriate
Pretty much any reason for conducting a formal AT assessment will fall into one of the above three categories in one way or another. And as long as the end results help members of the student’s educational team understand his or her technology needs, the rationale for the formal assessment is secondary.
It goes without saying that we as educators are always informally assessing our students to determine whether our instruction is effective and adjusting our teaching and lessons to accommodate the learning styles and preferences of our students. In our field, with such unique yet diverse needs, this is particularly important. But a formal assessment helps establish a baseline and guideposts to help guide the informal assessments that are continually in progress.
Methods and Materials
The most important thing to remember about AT assessment resources is this: There is no “one size fits all” method or assessment. Multiple methods will yield the most information.
That being said, there are some important best practices to keep in mind before and during your formal assessment:
- Have the most recent ocular form, FVA, and LMA available prior to data collection. This will narrow the scope of your assessment. For example, if the student you are assessing is a braille reader, you can probably skip the video magnification portion.
- Plan for the assessment to take place over multiple days. This allows for variations in times, locations, and situations. As with all other assessments, taking eye fatigue, glare, lighting, and student temperament into account is important.
- Be sure to assess the student using the current equipment/programs he/she is utilizing BEFORE trying new products. This will help determine if the current technology solutions are effective and whether additional training in these programs/devices is needed.
- It can be difficult to obtain equipment to try with the student. Allowing for time to get access to items is important. This obviously will mean that it may take multiple weeks to complete the assessment.
Components of an Assistive Technology Assessment
CAVEAT: Please note that the following contain examples of things contained in the assessment. Not all material included may be appropriate for all students due to age, cognitive ability, or various other factors
A necessary introductory component of any assessment is a record review. This portion should include information on visual acuity, pathology, field restrictions, etc. There should also be notes on whether the student has fine or gross motor issues, speech impairments, or other factors that would impact the types for technology that would be introduced during the assessment process. If there are IEP goals involving use of either assistive or mainstream technology, it may be worth noting them in this section as well. If possible, describe any technologies that have been tried in the past and whether they were successful.
When appropriate, it’s worth taking some time to interview your student regarding his/her use of technology. Following are some topics you may want to discuss.
- What technology are you using now? Do you feel that technology is meeting your needs (educational/recreational/vocational)?
- What technology would you like to try using? What do you believe this technology would do for you that your current technology does not?
What are your short term and long term goals? How does AT fit in with those goals and/or can help you (the student) achieve them?
Example: Postsecondary goals/plans
- “I want to be an engineer”
Short term plans
- "I want to play Minecraft like my friends do”
- “I want to watch my brother playing basketball, but I can’t ever follow him on the court”
- Example: Postsecondary goals/plans
- What are your goals related to technology? Be sure to ask about educational goals as well as vocational and recreational. Are there modifications that can be made to existing mainstream technology to make it accessible and/or useful?
Contact Staff Interview
Interviewing contact staff can be just as informative as interviews with the student. After all, they work directly with him or her and may have ideas on technology they’d like to implement but are not sure how to do so or even if it is possible. Working cooperatively with therapists, classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, and other contact staff can only provide a more comprehensive assessment and educational experience.
Following are some suggestions of topics to discuss with contact staff:
- What skills or abilities do you feel the student would benefit from in the educational environment? You may wish to ask for and provide feedback on how technology may assist in acquiring those skills.
- What skills or abilities do you feel the student would benefit from learning? You can follow this up with a discussion of how technology can help achieve these goals.
- What skills do you feel would assist the student in achieving the greatest possible independence? Again, a follow up discussion on the topic related to technology may be appropriate.
As we all know, the individuals who know the student best are their first teachers: their parents. They often see the student in environments that school contact staff may never observe them in. Also, parents may have questions regarding technology they may have seen or heard of and how their child may use or benefit from that technology. Establishing this dialogue will assist both parties in exploring options for the student.
Following are some suggestions of topics to discuss with parents and guardians of any student being assessed:
- Do you observe your child using technology at home? Do they use assistive technology to access it? If so what kind?
- Are there tasks at home that would be made easier with assistive technology? If so, what are they?
Observation is an especially important component of any assessment. Below is a list of things to keep in mind when conducting observations of a student being assessed:
- Observe student in multiple environments at multiple times if possible. This helps take eye fatigue, environmental factors,
- Make note of what technology is being used and whether it seems effective.
- Note ideas of technology to try
Interaction with Equipment
Obviously this section is the meat of the assessment and should take the greatest amount of time. There are several things that should be considered during this portion of the evaluation.
Remember, as previously mentioned, you should plan for this portion to take place over multiple days,allowingfor variations in times, locations, and situations.
- Also, equipment may need to be borrowed for short periods.
- As with all other assessments, taking eye fatigue, glare, lighting, and student temperament into account is important.
Components of this section may vary depending on student needs and ability.
- Equipment used is going to be highly individualized and depend on various factors, including what the student is currently using, the visual acuity of the student, and whether the student has any other disabilities such as hearing loss, or mobility restrictions.
- There are many formal and informal checklists and assessment templatesthat can be utilized to narrow the scope of your assessment and provide meaningful feedback. There will be a follow up article on Paths to Technology outlining various technology assessments and checklists so check back often!
Including a paragraph summarizing your findings is generally expected. It does not need to be overly complex or detailed since it is only meant to be an overview of the contents of your report.
- Summary of student’s skills in each area assessed
- Strengths and weaknesses of the student
- Unique observations based on the data collected such as knowledge gaps may also be included
A recommendations section is often included at the very end of a formal AT assessment. Recommendations assist the team in creating a plan that includes appropriate technology and techniques that will enable the student to get the very most out of his or her educational experience. However, there are some topics that should and should not be included in the recommendations section.
Recommendations should include:
- Skills that the student would benefit from learning
- Equipment that the student would benefit from using in specific situations
- Strategies the student can use to access equipment, text, or technology
- Settings that are most useful for video magnification, screen magnification, and text to speech
Recommendations should NOT include:
- Specific IEP goals or minutes of service
Brand-specific equipment to the exclusion of other brands
- You can state what equipment was used in the evaluation, but try not to imply that this is the only device that will work unless you are prepared to back up that claim with evidence.
Looking Ahead to the Second Installment...
Now that we have covered the reasons for conducting a formal assessments, important materials and methods, and the components of a formal written assessment, you are probably asking what sorts of resources are available to help you in writing up reports. The next installment will answer those questions and include sample assessments you are more than welcome to use to help you construct your own written reports.
In the meantime, please share your thoughts on assessment in the comments sections. Do you have a favorite website, book, or checklist that you use for AT assessments? What advice to you have for new teachers or AT professionals on the topic?