Experts team up to improve outcomes for an often overlooked student population

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LAWRENCE — The shared belief that all students have a right to a high-quality academic education has brought together experts from across the country to improve access to the general education curriculum for deafblind students with significant cognitive impairment.

Accessible Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Systems (ATLAS) and the National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) have partnered to create educational resources for this often overlooked student population. The project is funded by the Office of Special Education Programs of the US Department of Education.

ATLAS promotes learning and improved outcomes for all students, with a focus on students with significant cognitive impairment. The NCBD serves deafblind children and young adults, with an emphasis on education. The collaborative project uses research data from both centers to better understand the student population.

Joining the director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at the University of North Carolina NCDB Sam Morgan on the project.

The first objective of the group was to identify the student population. Karvonen’s report, Students with Important Cognitive Disabilities and Dual Sensory Loss, draws on extensive ATLAS and NCDB data to address this topic.

“Educators face a range of challenges in providing general education curriculum access to deafblind students with significant cognitive impairment, Morgan said. “What we know, combined with what ATLAS knows, fills a deep gap in helping us demonstrate the challenge and importance of identifying this student population as early as possible.”

Karvonen’s work also supports the project’s second goal. Researchers will use the ATLAS learning map models to create educational resources that support the shift from behavioral and competency-based teaching to concept-rich academic teaching.

The two centers recently hosted a panel of deafblind education experts from 14 states. The ATLAS team presented learning map templates that teachers can use to support teaching change. Conceptual card-based instruction is designed to take students beyond memorization to understand why they do what they do. Cognitive skills related to perception, organization, and communication benefit students throughout their lives, as these skills are applied to a wide range of academic subjects.

“The first two days were difficult for the participants. We were asking them to not only review developing resources, but also to change their thinking,” Morgan said. “But by day three, they were seeing the potential benefits of this approach.”

Swinburne Romine said the team is excited to see the change in mindset and to build on the work done by ATLAS to create resources for a wider population of students and teachers.

“Special education teachers are some of the most dedicated and hardworking people on the planet with little free time to read hundreds of research papers,” Swinburne Romine said. “The maps show them multiple pathways through which students can acquire different knowledge, skills and understandings and put volumes of research-based results at their fingertips.”

Photo: A working session with the panel of experts in the education of the deaf-blind.

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