Editor’s Note: Orientation and Mobility Career, College and Community Readiness (CCCR) Standards were originally designed for the state of Wisconsin, but offer guidelines to O & M specialists throughout the country. An excerpt is published below. View the full document (60 pages).
All children, including those who are blind or visually impaired, with or without additional disabilities, have the right to a free, appropriate, public education which includes specialized disability-specific curricula critical to“career and college readiness.” Standards for Orientation and Mobility skills aligned with the Common Core State Standards and States’ Model Academic Standards provide the structure for educational equity.
We, as a state, have documented the barriers to providing appropriate orientation and mobility (O&M) services to children in Wisconsin time and again over the years through a variety of organizations including Wisconsin DPI, Wisconsin National Agenda and Wisconsin AER. These same barriers have also been documented nationally. They include: not enough service providers, issuance of emergency licenses, pressures from administrators to limit amounts and levels of service, itinerant services in large geographical regions involving hours and hours of travel; a lack of understanding of the scope and sequence of O&M instruction by IEP team members, and not enough time in a teacher’s schedule to provide appropriate services. (Tellefson, M., Koehler, W.) Vision professionals are increasingly frustrated with the lack of influence they have in assuring an appropriate level of O&M services for the children they serve. This frustration leads to teacher turn-over and attrition which perpetuates the shortage of teachers in the field. The ultimate loss is the continuity of appropriate services to children who are blind or visually impaired.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction under the leadership of State Superintendent Dr. Tony Evers has charged educators with the responsibility of ensuring that all children graduate with the skills and knowledge they personally need to be successful in college, career and community. “It is our collective responsibility as an education community to make certain each child receives a high-quality, challenging education designed to maximize potential, an education that reflects and stretches his or her abilities and interests. This belief in the right of every child to learn forms the basis of equitable teaching and learning.” (Common Core Essential Elements, Introduction p XI.) Dr. Evers further states, “All students… deserve and have a right to a quality educational experience. This right includes, to the maximum extent possible, the opportunity to be involved in and meet the same challenging expectations that have been established for all students.” His vision, Every Child a Graduate is described: “In Wisconsin, we are committed to ensuring every child a graduate who has successfully completed a rigorous, meaningful, 21st century education that will prepare him or her for careers, college and citizenship (P IX).
Though there isn’t just one perfect action that can take remediate a problem as multi-faceted as we know this situation to be–especially in an educational landscape that keeps changing– doing nothing assures that children who are blind or visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities will continue to receive inequitable services as compared to their sighted peers. With a national unemployment rate of 60-70% for people who are blind or visually impaired, we must know for ourselves as educators, and teach others the critical role of the expanded core curriculum in ensuring that students have access to and can successfully complete an education that prepares them for career, college and community. Orientation and mobility skills play a critical and foundational role in this preparation.
We are called by Dr. Evers to develop those educational practices and systems that align with the Common Core State Standards to facilitate progress towards the readiness expectations for all children. This is our call to braid O&M curriculum outcomes with the Common Core State Standards and the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards so that students who are blind and visually impaired have educational access, experiences and training that increase the likelihood of succeeding in career, higher education and a meaningful life. Without this disability-specific instruction, children who are blind or visually impaired are at risk for not achieving the success their sighted counterparts achieve because of the inequities of access inherent in the disability.
In keeping with the models of a twenty-first-century educational system, the instructional curriculum of orientation and mobility needs its own set of rigorous and coherent age/grade level standards and a clear student “readiness” profile. The alignment of the O&M College, Career and Community Readiness (CCCR) standards with the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice will demonstrate the relationship between vision, principles, process and content and result in a collaborative braiding of disciplines that allow all children to progress towards readiness expectations.
Standards will give additional credibility to the importance of O&M instruction. They will help guide assessment and instruction of students, training for instructors (COMS), and accountability for the field. They will give the field a core of instructional parameters upon which to base further research, which will lead to confirmation of research-based, best practices.
In addition, it is well documented that not all children who are eligible for orientation and mobility instruction are receiving the frequency and amount of instruction that leads to career, college and community readiness. There are sparse resources and research available to help an O&M specialist justify an amount and level of instruction. Without research based, best practice recommendations from the field, O&M specialists stand on indefensible ground when advocating for an appropriate amount of O&M instruction if anyone on the IEP team poses a reason to lessen the amount. We know from research that this happens, and reasons given include not enough money, not enough staff, and caseloads that are overwhelmingly unmanageable. Amount and levels of service are driven ONLY by appropriate assessment toward the standards.
Standards for instruction will not need to be adopted by the district—they will provide research based best practices for instruction, and this is a corner stone for effective instruction.
Parents will need to know that O&M is an important part of the Expanded Core Curriculum, and part of that curriculum includes standards which have meaningful research to support that need and importance. A critical marker affecting successful employment for individuals with visual impairments is the ability to travel independently. For students with multiple disabilities, standards will guide instruction that can lead to less dependence in travel. In fact, the two most important variables affecting employment are O&M and literacy.
An outdated premise in our field continues to portray every student with a visual impairment as always developmentally behind sighted same age peers. Research has also shown that lowered expectations for students with visual impairments continues to have a negative effect on their respective growth and development. Standards will provide benchmarks of knowledge, skills, and behaviors that will focus instruction; and when growth does not occur within instructional periods, alternative instructional strategies must be employed.
Standards can help guide us with 4 simple questions: what do the students need to learn; how will we evaluate that learning; what do we do when they have learned; and, what will we do when they have not learned.
Standards in and of themselves will not increase your instructional time. They can however increase the effectiveness of your instructional time by providing sequenced and research confirmed processes for acquiring O&M skills, including meaningful evaluations of student abilities and needs.
Standards will give us a method of comparison of skills needed by age/grade levels. Standards based on an agreed upon set of skills, knowledge and behaviors will allow for more meaningful evaluation and instruction; these will increase and reinforce accountability for student learning.
With standards for O&M instruction, COMS will have research based information supporting the need for specific instruction. Standards will help increase accountability for student learning through an organized approach, much like standards guide instruction in the known core areas of reading, math, writing, etc. With standards, pre- and in-service training can be more focused.
Along with accountability for student learning comes the question of how much instructional time a student will need to receive in order to meet his or her objectives and goals. There are many facets of teaching and of learning that play into the decision, and the decision should be based on the individual student’s learning styles and needs. However, a 1999 study by William Koehler, “Considerations for Provision of Orientation and Mobility Instruction, used a Delphi study to gain consensus from O&M specialists to determine a range of instructional time needed to teach key O&M skills. The replication of that study, using the performance standards as the target, will allow O&M practitioners to use and show others what the field of O&M has defined as “appropriate”. From there, it is easy to justify a lower or higher level of instruction, for the right reasons in a way that is transparent to the entire IEP team.
There is a lack of formalized research based on common components of O&M; yes, there are articles published, however standards can and will help focus research on all aspects of O&M.
Respected information that has been around our field for some time will emphasize that students with visual impairments have … “unique, but not dissimilar needs.” To that end, standards provide an emphasis on structured, sequential learning important for all students; these will show us the expectations for independence in travel for typically developing students and thereby giving COMS and IEP teams an organized basis for making recommendations for instruction.
Standards are developed based in part on typical child development. They also reflect expectations in travel abilities for any child/student. If we are unaware of typical patterns of child development and travel expectations, we can, will, and HAVE lowered our own expectations based not on student abilities, but rather, based on predetermined perceptions of inability.
In our quest in special education to create individuals who can effectively participate in the larger society, it is of utmost importance that we know (and better yet, our students know) what is expected. For example, by about 5th grade, typically developing students will have acquired a given set of skills, knowledge and behaviors. By knowing these, standards will provide the necessary guidance for comprehensive assessment and purposeful instruction for the student, and, lead to more directed in-service training for the COMS.
As indicated above, standards outline a sequence of skills rather than mandatory achievement steps for students. But first consider this: many students who have been identified and eligible for services under the category of “Multi-handicapped” represent a vast and varied combination of challenges. In some states a student with a visual impairment (low vision) and a learning disability in math computation may be considered eligible for special education services under the category of “Multi-handicapped.” This student is far different than a student with significant cognitive challenges (intellectual disability), vision loss (VI), and other health impairment (OHI).
Even a student with the previous listing of eligibilities may have severe intellectual challenges or mild ones; the student may have significant vision loss or quite useable levels of low vision; and other health impairment may be neurological (seizure disorder) or ADD.
Before any pre-determination of “inability” based on category, the student needs a comprehensive evaluation/assessment with IEP goals designed to meet her/his unique needs, considering age and immediate travel expectations.
We really need to get away from any vestiges of entrenched thought that the student with a visual impairment will be all right with a “travel buddy.” This is not what is expected of non-disable peers.
We all know that purposeful movement begins far sooner than age 2. This is why we have early intervention services. However, at age 2 considerations are being made for school based programming, all of which includes standards. By coordinating our efforts with those of general education, including specific levels of accountability, we can better match instruction to specific student needs.
Additionally, in working with parents of infants/toddlers, it is important for parents to see the longer term process of developing O&M skills and how critical their contributions and advocacy for Early Intervention is!
Standards will provide the basis for a systematic, comprehensive evaluation in O&M. Too often we place reliance on “pieces and parts of a variety of assessment tools” which we can now see leads to students demonstrating “splinter skills”, or those skills taught in isolation with varied levels of importance depending on the particular instructor.
Standards will give a common basis of skill, knowledges, and behaviors that will follow the student’s progress rather than a fragmented approach based on numerous lists.
Accountability is real for everyone-students accountable for learning; teachers accountable for teaching; and administrators accountable for developing and reinforcing an environment that assures learning. Research shows 70+% of individuals with visual impairments as being unemployed or under-employed. Two major factors in the 70%: lack of literacy, and, O&M skills. That is also scary.
We are already accountable through outcomes and lack of performance that currently exist, and frankly stand to be evaluated by others who have no idea what O&M is. Consumer groups, parent groups, and schools have expectations for accountability by service providers. Standards will give the field a higher level of accountability which can support individual instructors. Accountability lends credibility to the work we do.