Assessing AT Student Need
Assistive technology (AT) devices and strategies have proven successful in giving students with disabilities access to the general curriculum. Before AT can be used, a thorough review of the student needs, abilities, environmental factors and required tasks must take place. Identifying solutions that best address student outcomes is an ongoing process.
Information in this module addresses the following topics:
Assistive Technology are tools that serve a set of educational goals, making it easier and more efficient for students to achieve. There is now AT for virtually all disabling conditions and every possible task.
When used by students with disabilities, AT
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) includes the definition of AT devices and services and specifically outlines the school district's responsibility to provide AT. As a public agency, the school district must ensure that both AT devices or services are provided if "required" for the student to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Often, the greatest challenge for schools is to determine whether or not the AT is, in fact, required. Given the growing success of technology to provide access to education, the reauthorization of IDEA in 1997 added a specific requirement for IEP teams to "consider" the AT needs of all students with disabilities:
Consideration of Special Factors:
Within this general statement, it seems reasonable to assume that each and every IEP team needs to be able to "consider" the child's need for assistive technology. In order to do so, at least one person on the team will need to have some knowledge about AT devices and services that might be appropriate and applicable for the student they discuss.
Determining whether a student is a candidate for AT devices or services starts with just a few practical questions. Consider using the forms on the sidebar as tools to help with the initial consideration process. For AT considerations, It is essential for a student's IEP team to consider:
1. What task do we want this student to do, that s/he is unable to do at a level that reflects his/her skills/abilities (writing, reading, communicating, seeing, hearing)? Be very specific.
2. Is the student currently able to independently complete tasks with current strategies or accommodations? If so, AT is most likely not indicated.
3. Is a form of AT (either devices, tools, hardware, or software) currently used to address this task? How successful is it?
4. Would the use of AT help the student perform this task more easily or efficiently, in the least restrictive environment, or perform successfully with less personal assistance?
Results of AT Consideration
Outcomes of this "AT consideration" process may indicate one of the following:
An AT Assessment is required when the team decides that new or additional information is needed ("this is something we don't know") to make a decision.
The request for an AT Assessment may originate at any time, by any member of the IEP team (including parents) during the development if the IEP or in the provision of services to a student with disabilities. It may be a formal request for an "Assistive Technology Assessment" or simply a realization that current interventions are not sufficient and something more is needed. Remember, an AT Assessment can be requested at any time by any member of the IEP team!
Many questions remain in the forefront as to how school districts identify the procedures and practices used in arriving at decisions regarding the provision of AT.
Which students need assistive technology?...those whose IEP teams determine that AT is indicated as a way to enable students to meet their educational goals. AT can be used in combination with other interventions and strategies in order for students to better access instruction and learning.
What kinds of technology are needed?.. this is determined on a case-by-case basis related directly to what is needed for a student to receive FAPE. Effective AT systems may contain no tech strategies, or low and high tech tools.
Who should be involved in making these decisions?... the student's IEP team is the actual decision-making body. Members include the student, family members and/or caregivers, and appropriate educational and related services professionals, based on the student's special needs. This team may also include other people who are significantly involved in the student's education and well-being such as medical personnel and peers.
All members of the IEP team (including the family) work together to collect information on the student, the environment and the tasks for active participation in the general curriculum. When decisions about AT solutions -devices and services - are to be made, school district personnel knowledgeable in the use of AT or an outside consultant can be called in to assist the team to make appropriate and useful decisions. This team process results in a clear understanding of how recommended tools and strategies were selected and what they will be used for.
Knowing what to address in an AT Assessment is similar to other assessments that are done. We'd like to share with you a helpful framework for team-based AT assessment. It's called the SETT framework and is a guideline for gathering data to make effective AT decisions. You always begin by collecting information about the student.
S for the Student
E for the Environment
T for the Tasks
T for the Tools needed for the student to address the tasks.
Here's the rationale:
After determining that an AT Assessment should be provided for an individual student, the school district must identify a procedure to collect information on the student, the environment, and the tasks required for participation in the activities of the environment. Before the IEP team meets they should gather information on the student using formal and informal measures and observation. Consider using the forms on the sidebar from the Wisconsin AT Initiative and the Georgia Project for Assistive Technology to assist with gathering information.
Tips for Planning: Before You Begin
The following questions and aids are designed to assist with this process.
When first considering what the student needs to be able to do, it is fine to be global. "Talk" or "write" may be appropriate answers, though some elaboration is desirable. This will be made more specific in the Tasks section. The primary goal is to begin to establish consensus among group members about what it is really important for this student to be able to do and the barriers that keep the student from doing whatever needs to be done.
For every student, multiple environments must be considered, as no student exists in only one environment. When considering only school environments, the differences are profound among the classroom(s) at different hours of the day, the playground, the cafeteria, the hallway, the bus stop and a variety of other environments a student experiences. In each environment, there are factors to consider including arrangements, support, materials and equipment, and attitudes.
The purpose of identifying tasks is to determine which current opportunities will enable the student to move toward mastery of his/her goals. If the answer is "None," then AT tools will not solve the problem, as they are just a means to participate in activities that build knowledge and skills. If there are no tasks that provide meaningful practice, mastery cannot possibly be expected.
The WATI Planning Guide is a single page form that leads the team through a five-step decision making process. After the information above is shared, the team will begin to focus on identifying problems and then generate solutions. Select one or two critical tasks and ask "What does the students need to be able to do"? Solutions that address these tasks will be generated.
Using an effective decision making process requires team members to acquire and use a variety of skills that are separate from the technical skills they may have needed during the data gathering stage. These include communication skills and group process skills. The Tips document helps to focus on these elements.
Considering what AT can be used is the fun part! Most people would like to begin here, but you will be off to a very poor start if you skip the important information collection of Step One. It is hoped that a group who has used the SETT Framework to arrive at this point, does so with a clearer understanding of what Tools should be sought and how those tools would be used.
From this information. the team should select 1-2 critical student tasks for which to generate solutions. All possible solutions should be "brainstormed" by the team. Remember that AT tools range from the simplest, everyday devices to the most complex technology innovations. There are also "no tech" materials and strategies to be used with low and high tech devices and supports. All are considered as part of a system of tools working in combination to assist a student in moving forward. Keep in mind that communication among the team members should be open and honest.
Identifying the AT Tools & Strategies
What a difference it makes to begin seeking tools with a clear idea of who is going to use them, where, and for what! Teams may want to use some of the resources on the sidebar to assist with generating AT Solutions.
Selecting The Tools
The team now moves toward consensus on the outcomes the tools will be used for and the features of those tools. As environments and tasks are explored, the links between assessment and intervention become strong and clear. Solutions are generated as they relate to individual tasks, one at a time. With this approach, members of the team can see the relevancy of the technology and can be more active and persistent in encouraging and supporting the student's achievement through its use.
|Step One: Collect Info|
The team now begins to develop an Implementation Plan that includes AT services to support trials with equipment - how long, when, and the person(s) responsible. A date is set to meet again to review the results of the trial in the Follow Up section. After this planning session is complete, a written plan begins to take shape specifying what the team plans to do. The team now determines how the student and others will try out the proposed system of tools in the customary environments in which they will be used. The last part of the AT Planning Guide is to trial the identified AT to see what "works" in the student's learning environments.
Specific devices, both hardware and software, and their vendors are identified and prioritized from the list generated in Step Two. If part of the plan is a series of trials with a variety of hardware or software, they will need to be scheduled as the assistive technology is purchased, borrowed, or rented for trial use.
Identify how a student might be able to try out some of the solutions in the natural environment. Look for loan/lease possibilities:
Using the AT Extended Assessment Planner, identify the overall goals and specific tasks for the AT device trial. This form can help teams plan and implement well designed trial periods with devices. Trials are the only truly effective way to determine what will work for a specific child and are integral to the assessment and consideration processes.
Try to get to the specific learning task that the trial AT will be used for -- the problem you want to be solved. Will the AT make a difference? How will you know? Is there more than one tool you could try?
The team works together to measure student performance with the trial devices by collecting data that is observable and measurable. How and when should the information be collected? How long should the student's performance be documented before a decision is made?
Data collection systems are designed for individual student performance changes. Baseline information should indicate what is currently happening without the AT tool. Data taken while using AT interventions can analyze the impact of the device -- does one device work better for this student than another? Does AT improve the functional capabilities of a student? To find out, adapt one of the forms below to collect student data when using a device for a particular task.
The following data collection forms have been adapted from examples found in How Do You Know It? How Can You Show It? (Reed, Bowser & Korsten, 2002):
Comparing 3 AT Solutions (MS Word)
Worksheet Answers (MS Word)
Initiating Communications (MS Word)
Keyboard Comparisons (MS Word)
Response Time (MS Word)
Be sure to include in your trial AT plan expected task outcome, current student level of performance, data method, person responsible and AT solutions to be observed and measured.
AT assessment and use must be ongoing as it relates to the tasks and achievements of the student. The team assigns specific names of people who are responsible to complete tasks and the dates by which they need to be completed. The plan becomes a record of the team's efforts to determine, organize, analyze, revise, and act upon data obtained.
AT Implementation Plan. The team sets a date to meet again and review their progress after the AT trials are completed. The follow-up meeting will involve a review of all actions to date, including specific data collected, and a discussion of whether or not the assistive technology being used is working. If it is, the tool must be purchased and added to the IEP. If not, the team may need to return to the decision-making process to discuss other AT solutions as more information is gathered through trial use.
Use the AT Implementation Plan to identify the tasks within the student's schedule where the AT will be used. This will also help you to discuss student and staff training needs as well as equipment considerations.
Re-SETT As the student begins to use the AT to more independently participate in learning activities, this will impact aspects of the SETT process. As the use of technology is a dynamic process -- changing as the student's needs change, you will need to address the new factors that result from the student's AT use.
Team completes the Implementation Plan Portion of AT Planning Guide
|Step Two: Generate solutions|
After an Implementation Plan has been identified - AT tools and supports that will be used to address specific tasks - they must be added to the IEP as interventions used to meet specific student outcomes. Many schools do not write the brand name of the AT device but use general descriptive terms on the features of the device and how it will be used to address a particular objective/outcome.
Bowser, G. & Reed, P. (1998). Educational Tech Points. Winchester, OR: CATO.
Bowser, G. & Reed, P. (Oct-Nov, 1997). Navigating the Process: Educational Tech Points for Parents, Closing the Gap.
Cassatt-James, E.L. (1992). Technology in the Classroom: Applications and Strategies for the Education of Children with Severe Disabilities, Education Module. Rockville, Maryland: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Carl, D., Mataya, C. & Zabala, J. (1994). What's the Big IDEA?, Assistive Technology Issues for Teams in School Settings. Houston, TX: Region IV Education Center.
Reed, P. (Ed.). (1998). Assessing Student Need for Assistive Technology. Oshkosh, WI: Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative.
RESNA Technical Assistance Project (1992). Technology and the Individualized Education Program. Washington, DC: RESNA Press.
U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (1995). Teachers and Technology: Making the Connection, OTA-EHR-616. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.