Academic journal article Rural Special Education Quarterly

Assessment in Low-Incidence Disabilities: The Day-to-Day Realities

Academic journal article Rural Special Education Quarterly

Assessment in Low-Incidence Disabilities: The Day-to-Day Realities

Article excerpt


This article addresses issues in assessment of students who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and visually impaired in rural school districts, where specially trained personnel may be in short supply. Accommodations and modifications for formal and informal assessment are suggested, changes in service delivery models are recommended, and additional resources are provided.

Children who are blind, deaf, visually impaired, and hard of hearing together comprise less than 2/10ths of one percent of the estimated school-age enrollment in the United States (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). These students pose unique challenges to rural school districts, particularly in terms of the amount and intensity of services required to support them in regular education settings. The challenge is particularly evident in the area of assessment, where teachers and school psychologists often have little experience and few opportunities to practice testing procedures on children whose disability precludes the use of standardized instruments. Few tests are valid for use with students with sensory disabilities, and the adaptations made by uninformed professionals can result in both over- and underestimates of an individual student's potential.

The literature on low-incidence disabilities in rural areas has concentrated less on assessment of students from low-incidence disability populations than on educating and supporting pre-service rural professionals through distance education (Ferrell, Persichitte, Lowell, & Roberts, 2001) and the creation of a central state or regional agency or consortium to monitor, assess and provide technical assistance and some direct services to children with low incidence disabilities (Dirst, 1996). In a final report to the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, however, Hicks (1994) reported that two of the top 10 most prevalent issues for the provision of special education programs and services to students with disabilities in rural areas were (a) recruitment and retention of knowledgeable, trained and skilled professionals and (b) assessment materials. In this article, we address these two issues in terms of their application to the assessment of rural students with visual and hearing loss and seek to provide guidance to rural educators when the services of specialized teachers are scarce. Few school psychologists or other related service providers receive practice or training to assess students with low-incidence disabilities. When such students are encountered, the interpretation of results is often filtered through the specialized teacher of students with sensory disabilities. In rural school districts, however, such teachers are either rare, or they are unavailable.

The Availability of Knowledgeable, Trained and Skilled Professionals

The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 1999) found that approximately 2 million additional teachers would be needed by 2008. This number is staggering, particularly when one considers that schools are currently unable to fill the vacancies they have in all areas of education, and particularly in the area of special education. In the 1996-97 school year, approximately 4,000 special education teaching positions remained unfilled and nearly 33,000 positions were staffed by teachers not fully qualified in special education (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).

Attrition and retirement over the next few years creates an additional concern for the future supply of teachers. Some data indicate that between 20 and 50 percent of teachers will abandon their profession within the first three to five years of employment (Darling-Hammond & Sclan, 1996; NCES, 1998). Furthermore, special education teachers leave the field at about twice the rate of their general education counterparts (Cook & Boe, 1998). It seems likely that the estimate of additional teachers needed, particularly in special education, is only the tip of the iceberg. …

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