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Assessing Technology Needs for Developing IEPs


Difficulty acquiring literacy skills puts children at risk for referral for special education services (Bay & Brian, 1992), and the vast majority of children with disabilities perform poorly on standardized tests that measure literacy achievement (Ysseldyke, Algozine, & Thurlow, 2000). Therefore, enhancing literacy skills has traditionally been a major focus of many students’ IEP goals and objectives. Within the development and delivery of a student’s special education services, there are four distinct points at which the educational team needs to consider a student’s need for assistive technology: (1) the initial evaluation for eligibilityit supports completion of an effective evaluation, (2) the development of the initial IEP, (3) the annual review, and (4) the three-year reevaluation (Bowser & Reed, 1995).

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Although the 1997 IDEA Amendments require that assistive technology be considered during the development of every student’s IEP, there is a lack of clarity as to how consideration translates into assessment. Reed and Bowser (1999) suggest consideration constitutes a brief discussion, lasting at least a minute or two but no more than 1520 minutes with the IEP team. They recommend, “If understanding and agreement cannot be reached in 20 minutes, then it is possible that there are questions that need to be addressed in another forum, such as an assistive-technology evaluation.” Thus, consideration can be accomplished by an educational team that is knowledgeable of assistive-technology devices and services and has sufficient information to engage in a problem-solving process in a reasonable or limited span of time.

The consideration of assistive technology is more akin to collaborative problem solving (Friend & Cook, 2003), invoking a process that begins with problem identification, proceeds to formulating solutionsoften through a brainstorming processand ends with selecting and implementing a solution. This is most often an ongoing process that can involve as few participants as the special education and general education teachers collaborating together or as many participants as the multidisciplinary educational team working with the parents to address a problem. Such collaborative problem solving should result in selecting assistive technologies to be used. For example, it may be determined that specific devices, software, or other materials (e.g., handheld spell checkers, software to support first-draft writing, or portable keyboarding devices) are indeed needed by the student as compensatory technology. If identifying and selecting technology requires more time, information, or expertiseor if it is too complex for the team to consider using a problem-solving processthen a more in-depth technology assessment is needed.

The need for a more structured approach has led to the emergence of assistive-technology consideration models (Watts & O’Brian, 2001). These models have either delineated a series of questions for the team to address (Chambers, 1997) or have provided a framework for the process of data gathering, analysis, selection of assistive technology, and trial implementation (Zabala, 1996).

One example of a more in-depth approach is Zabala’s (1996) Students, Environments, Tasks, and Tools (SETT) framework. SETT users examine the student’s strengths, abilities, and needs; the requirements of the environments in which the student must function (e.g., the classroom, the community, or work); and the requirements of the tasks the student must perform. Information

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