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«National Accessible Reading Assessment Projects National Accessible Reading Assessment Projects TARA T Technology Assisted Reading Assessment ...»

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Students with Visual Impairments and

Assistive Technology: Results from a

Cognitive Interview Study

in Five States

National Accessible Reading Assessment Projects

National Accessible Reading Assessment Projects



Technology Assisted Reading Assessment

Students with Visual Impairments and

Assistive Technology: Results from a

Cognitive Interview Study in Five States

Christopher Johnstone, Jason Altman, Joe Timmons, and Martha Thurlow

August 2009

All rights reserved. Any or all portions of this document may be reproduced and distributed

without prior permission, provided the source is cited as:

Johnstone, C., Altman, J., Timmons, J., & Thurlow, M. (2009). Students with visual impairments

and assistive technology: Results from a cognitive interview study in five states. Minneapolis, MN:

University of Minnesota, Technology Assisted Reading Assessment.

The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R324A060034 to the ETS. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.

Table of Contents Introduction..................................................................1 Large Scale Assessment, Technology, and Students with Visual Impairments.......1 Study Methods................................................................2 Overview.................................................................2 Sample...................................................................3 Instrument and Procedures.................................................3 Analysis..................................................................3 Results.......................................................................4 Quantitative Results........................................................4 Qualitative Results.........................................................4 Conclusions: Implications for Technology Based Reading Assessments...............7

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Appendix: Protocol for Observational Interview..................................11 Introduction Societal advances rarely occur in a vacuum. Rather, advances in human thought and technology are often the result of urgent needs and demands by segments of the population. Assistive technology for persons with disabilities is an example of change prompted by human need. In schools, Assistive Technologies (AT) are tools used to promote access to the general education curriculum for students with disabilities. For students with visual impairments, assistive technologies may include low-technology devices for mobility such as walking canes, or high-tech academic tools such as computer or print magnification devices and screen readers (Cox & Dykes, 2001). Through the use of AT, students with visual impairments are better able to rise to the demands of challenging mainstream settings in schools.

While use of AT has provided students with visual impairments a more level playing field during instruction, use of AT in large-scale assessments has lagged behind. In an interview study of Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs) conducted by Johnstone, Altman, Timmons, Thurlow, and Laitusis (2008), TVIs noted that statewide assessment practice has not caught up to classroom instructional practice for use of AT. TVIs reported that in some states, the only options available to students with visual impairments are braille, large print, and regular print tests. These options do not account for the variety of technologies students use in schools on a daily basis.

The gap between instructional and assessment practice is especially salient in reading content. In 2007, Thurlow, Johnstone, Timmons, and Altman found that students used a wide variety of magnifying, screen reading, refreshable braille, and other devices to assist with reading assignments. Yet, the authors’ follow-up study in 2008 found that such devices are often not allowed on statewide assessments.

Large Scale Assessment, Technology, and Students with Visual Impairments

To date, little is known about the intersection of large-scale assessment, technology, and students with visual impairments. Five studies published between 2002 and 2007 investigated the use of computer administered tests for students with a variety of disabilities, but no consistent findings emerged (Johnstone, Altman, Thurlow, & Thompson, 2006;

Zinesky & Sireci, 2007). Studies indicated that test validity may be compromised under certain accommodated conditions because of interaction effects for students with some disabilities (Fletcher, Francis, Boudousquie, Copeland, Young, Kalinowski, & Vaughn, 2006), or because accommodations had a positive scoring effect for all students (Leseaux, Pearson, & Siegel, 2006; Kettler, Niebling, Mroch, Feldman, Newell, Elliott, Kratochwill, & Bolt, 2005), thus negating the equalizing effect that technology-based accommodations are supposed to produce.

Despite the inconclusive nature of accommodations research, exploratory research on technology-enhanced assessments may provide some insights into future directions.

Hansen, Lee, and Forer (2002) conducted a preliminary evaluation of speech output

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Higgins, Russell, and Hoffman (2005) demonstrated a possible trend in assessment using computer-based technology. Higgins et al. found that there were no significant differences in reading comprehension scores across testing modes compared to paper-based assessment. Another approach of accommodating students with visual impairments using multi-sensory approach aids was studied by Landau, Russell, Gourgey, Erin, and Cowan (2003). The Talking Tactile Tablet (a math tool with speech output) had a positive impact on the mathematics performance of students who were visually impaired or had difficulty visualizing graphics and diagrams. This study also found that students performed better on five of the eight items when using the Talking Tactile Tablet, and performed the same on the remaining three, indicating that a multi-sensory approach may be an effective approach for assessing students with visual impairments.

None of the studies summarized here “prove” that technology-enhanced large-scale assessments are more accurate measures of knowledge for students with visual impairments than traditional paper-based assessments, but all point to the importance of further exploration of technology assisted reading assessments for this population. One approach to better understanding the appropriateness of how students might use AT on a statewide reading assessment is through assessing their use and proficiency with assistive technologies. There currently are few models for assessing assistive technology proficiency that can be used for accountability purposes (Watts, O’Brian, & Wojcik, 2004), but the development of a standardized test that examines AT proficiency as it relates to reading may help inform accommodation and test format decisions for large-scale assessments in reading and language arts.

Study Methods Overview

The purpose of this study was to better understand use of assistive technology in instruction and assessment by students with visual impairments. Our aim was to gather information that would be relevant to the creation of a new large-scale assessment that addressed reading as an activity that involved the use of a variety of technologies. In order to adequately determine assistive technology (AT) use, we interviewed and observed students themselves.

2 Students with Visual Impairments and Assistive Technology Sample

For this study, we targeted students with visual impairments in grades 6–10. We interviewed students in five states—two states in the northeast, one in the southwest, one in the upper midwest, and one in the south to ensure geographical representation. In addition, we sampled students from both general education school systems (n=9) and state schools for the blind (n=5). Four additional students were educated at state schools through general education classes in a nearby public school system. In total, we interviewed 18 students for this study. Of the total sample, 13 students had low vision and 5 students were totally blind. Two participants with low vision also had hearing loss, and four additional students had one other documented disability.

Instrument and Procedures

Students participated in “observational interviews” facilitated by three researchers on the project. Observational interviews were a hybrid between verbal interviews, where respondents describe phenomenon (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998) and cognitive interviews, where interviewees participate in an activity and describe their thoughts and actions (Ericsson & Simon, 1993). During these interviews, students were asked several questions about their use of reading AT in the classroom and home. Afterward, students were asked how they use AT in the reading process, including how to download files, retrieve information from printed material, and explain preferences when using AT. A protocol for interviews is found in the Appendix to this report.

Each interview lasted between 30 and 60 minutes. Interviewers worked alone or, when possible, in teams. The procedure for each interview was exactly the same. In each interview, the lead researcher confirmed that consent and assent forms were signed, introduced the study’s purposes, then began asking questions. After answering several questions about AT use in general, students were asked to demonstrate how they use AT devices. Because AT devices and preferences are individualized, students often demonstrated how to use different devices and platforms during interviews. A complete listing of student technologies used is found in the “Results” section.


After each interview, lead researchers created a summary report based on a model developed by Educational Testing Service researchers for their work with adult AT users. Each summary contained a brief narrative of the student’s current educational functioning and AT use. Summaries also included notes on tasks that were very easy and very difficult for students, information on AT choices and why students select certain AT formats, level of independence of AT users, and descriptions of tasks completed by students.

After all 18 summaries were written, our research team analyzed each of the summary documents’ contents for themes that emerged across interviewees. This process took place in two phases. First, one researcher examined data found in summaries and labeled

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Results This study sought to examine how students use assistive technologies in the areas of reading and language arts. Previous studies in the same overall research endeavor included a teacher survey (Thurlow, Johnstone, Timmons, & Altman, 2007) and teacher interviews (Johnstone, Altman, Timmons, Thurlow, & Laitusis, in press). This study focused on the students themselves and included both student observations and interviews. For the first phase of this study we labeled relevant trends and themes that emerged from the summaries. For the second phase we analyzed interpretations for possible error and perused additional perspectives and anecdotes.

Quantitative Results

The first step was to examine the characteristics of student learning and assistive technology use. We found that 17% of the participants (n=3) were able to read regular print.

These students also read large print, and two of them also used audio books to read.

Eight additional students read large print only bringing the total number of large print readers among participants to 11 or 61%. The next 7 students all read braille. The final student read using audio only.

Many of the students who read large print also read in braille. Of the 18 students in the study, 56% read braille (n=10). Many of the students also used audio books to access print regardless of their primary method of print reading (72%, n=13). Of these, 10 students had used JAWS in the past year for audio needs. ZoomText with audio was also used by 8 students (although some of these students also used JAWS).

Braille products also were used often by the participants. Eight of the ten students who read braille used some form of technology for reading Braille. The Braille Note device was used by 5 of the 8 students who used such technology. Two others used the Braille Sense or Braille Sense Plus, and one student used a Braille and Speak.

For magnification, students used a variety of technologies, from simple handheld magnifiers to computer-based products. Used frequently were both Zoomtext (most often also with speech) or a closed-circuit televisions (CCTV). Seven students used both types of technology depending on the reading situation. Two students used Zoomtext only, and two students used CCTVs only.

4 Students with Visual Impairments and Assistive Technology  Students obtained their reading materials from a variety of sources including the Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB & D) catalog, Bookshare, and Braille Text from a state agency. Used most frequently was RFB & D which was used by six students. Bookshare was used by three students, and three students also accessed books from a state agency.

Qualitative Results

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