Train teams to dig deeper on student need for AT before jumping to evaluation

Every IEP team must consider whether a student with a disability needs assistive technology services. Sometimes, however, teams jump past the consideration process and go right into the evaluation process, said Mike Marotta, an AT specialist with Inclusive Technology Solutions, LLC.

Taking the time to thoroughly consider whether a student needs AT can reduce the number of formal AT evaluations that are requested, Marotta said.

“People are familiar with the idea that AT must be considered, but what does ‘consideration’ really mean?” Marotta said.

An evaluator may meet with a student only once or twice during an evaluation before making recommendations, he said. It may be more beneficial for the team to use an AT consideration-consultation model where an AT specialist is part of the ongoing consideration process, Marotta recommended.

To start, encourage your IEP teams to use the consideration process as a way to uncover the core issues that AT would address, Marotta said. They may find a solution for the student, whether through AT or other strategies, without having to conduct a formal evaluation.

Share these strategies:

  • Ask what the student is having trouble doing. A statement such as “Johnny can’t write” is not enough information to lead an IEP team to a solution. Team members should ask each other deeper questions to get to the core of what the student is having trouble doing, Marotta said. For example, ask team members: Where does the student struggle? Does he have a physical issue with the mechanics of writing? Does he have trouble generating ideas for writing? Or, does he have great ideas, but he can’t pull his words together to compose a written assignment?

“With just a few questions, the statement ‘Johnny can’t write’ could be refined to ‘Johnny struggles with getting his ideas down in a cohesive way to create and complete a written assignment,'” Marotta said. “The depth of the conversation very much changes how you provide supports for that student.”

  • Use your experts at the table. When your team is considering a student’s need for AT, talk to the student’s teachers to get a clear picture of where the issues are, Marotta said.

“In talking with the student’s English/language arts teacher, maybe they say, ‘Johnny has great ideas, but can’t get started on the process.'”

The team might consider providing the student an outlining strategy with tools to help him organize his thoughts. Or perhaps an occupational therapist is working with the student on the mechanics of writing and needs his teachers to remind the student to use his writing strategies throughout the day, he said.

  • Don’t overlook tech tools that support range of students. After understanding why the student is struggling, teams may be able to find a low- or high-tech tool that’s already available in the district and can support the student’s needs, Marotta said.

“There’s more technology in our schools than ever before,” he said. “A large percentage of those tools now have a component that can be flexible enough to be considered assistive technology for certain students.”

For example, many schools use Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education, but they may not realize they can add an extension to a Chrome browser that will allow a student to outline information, he said.

“iOS devices come with a depth of accessibility features. Some devices can read text aloud, which is great for a range of students — students with visual impairments, learning disabilities, or cognitive disabilities.”

Also consider re-categorizing your technology tools so that they’re classified by features, not by the type of students who would benefit, Marotta said. For instance, instead of listing apps for students with learning disabilities, consider listing apps by their features such as apps for executive functioning, note-taking, or text-to-speech. Then teams can match a student’s need to a tool’s feature, he said.

  • Integrate AT on trial basis. After brainstorming solutions, identify opportunities throughout the student’s day where he can trial a potential solution, Marotta said.

“We can start to integrate trials of either strategies or technology that might work.”

  • Stuck? Reach out to larger AT community through social media. Every IEP team needs someone on it with an understanding of how technology can support students, Marotta said. Encourage a team member who already has an interest in AT to connect to a larger AT community through social media, he said. These groups can help brainstorm potential solutions or suggest a tool that your team overlooked, he said.

Marotta will present the workshop The Assistive Technology Top 10: What Every Educator and Administrator Needs to Know at the National Future of Education Technology Conference, to be held January 24-27 in Orlando, Fla.


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