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Rubrics and the Essential Assessments

A critical literature review of the field of visual impairments was conducted along with guidance by Dr. Randy Jose, OD, FAAO (professor emeritus University of Houston). From that literature review and guidance by Dr. Jose, a content area rubric for the essential assessments required for students who are blind or visually impaired was developed. This rubric should be used with a scoring guide (percentage of items covered) or with a quality indicator rubrics (no evidence, emerging, proficient or advanced) for peer critiques or by administrators to determine the quality of assessments. In addition, this rubric could be used by TVIs and COMS as a template for what areas to include in their assessments. Positive impact has been seen through standard-based programming to define quality programs for students who are blind or visually impaired (Toelle, 1986). The literature shows that timely and quality assessment data have been identified as critical elements of program accountability for services to students who are blind or visually impaired (Toelle & Blankenship, 2008).

How to Navigate the Essential Assessment Content Rubric

The content rubric is enhanced with critical resources embedded in the document through hyperlinks. Hyperlink resources are part of the folder and should as separate documents in a new tab. The rubric is divided into 7 sections for each key component (description of component, birth-3 years of age, 3-5 years of age, 5-22 years of age, and multiple disabilities/deafblind, tips, and resource links). Each identified key component has the content areas needed under each age/ability group and a definition (hyperlinked) under the key component. In addition, each key component area has a description and rationale (federal citations, as appropriate), resources that are free under public domains, resources to purchase, and tips for administering the particular key component. The resources that are free under public domain are typically hyperlinks that can be opened as a separate document for the ease of the reader. The resources under for purchase are cited with a number and the reference is at the end of the document. The resource list is certainly not exhaustive but an extensive literature review was conducted to assist the reader in finding many examples or tools.

How to Navigate the Essential Assessment Quality Rubrics

The quality rubrics are divided according to age/ability level (birth-3, 3-5 years of age, 5-22 years of age, and multiple disabilities/deaf blind). The rubrics are scored as accomplished (4), proficient (3), emergent (2), or non-evident (1). Each area has quantifiable components. For some component areas it was either in the report or not with no gradient measure. Use the most appropriate rubric according to the age/ability level of the student.

Determining critical content areas for the ECC is based on the individual needs of each student thus it looks much different than those areas for the Functional Vision Assessment (FVA) and Learning Media Assessment (LMA). The content areas noted are based on the procedure developed by the Iowa ECC work group (2007) and begins with a structured conversation around the strengths and needs of the individual student in all nine areas. From that conversation a few areas are targeted for assessment and instruction. Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired curriculum department has developed an assessment tool (EVALS) for all nine areas of the ECC and it is recommended as part of this process. The assessment data from the ECC content areas drives the programming and instruction. It is impossible to put in all skill sets within the nine content areas but the procedures and tools to accomplish the task are part of this project and are hyperlinked within the rubric.

Critical Factors for Effective Instruction

Researchers agree that the most important factor influencing student learning is the quality of the teacher (Ashton, P. & Webb, R.,1986; Darling-Hammond, L., 2000; Fullan, M., 1982; Gibson, S., & Dembo, M.,1984; Haycock, K., Jerald, C., & Huang, S. ,2001; Jordan, H., Mendro, R. & Weerasinghe, D.,1997; Moore, W.P., & Esselman, M.E. ,1992; Ross, J.A.,1992; Sanders, W.L., & Rivers, J.C.,1996 and Westat, 2002). As we apply this construct to instruction in the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) content areas (Hatlen, 1996 & 2003) the content experts are committed to providing a variety of tools and resources online and in written publications that will enhance existing skills or introduce new skill sets to TVIs and COMs.

A research-based effective instructional continuum always begins with quality assessment data that drives both educational programming and instruction for all students (birth-22 years of age) with varying acuity and ability levels. In addition, IDEA 2004 (300.305, 300.320) mandates assessment data that provides the present levels of academic and functional achievement from multiple sources. For children and youth who are blind or visually impaired the three essential assessments are the functional vision assessment (FVA), learning media assessment (LMA), and assessments in the ECC priority areas. These assessments are always given together upon initial referral and for the three-year re-evaluations. Some states such as Texas and Tennessee require one or more of these assessments in their educational guidelines. In addition, other procedural guidelines have been produced, such as the California Educational GuidelinesIowa ECC Procedure Manual, Blind and Visually Impaired Students: Educational Service Guidelines (NASDSE) published by Perkins, and the new Texas State Educational Guidelines and are available for states to use as guidance to produce an individual state guide. The ECC is goal area 8 of the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youth who are Blind or Visually Impaired, including Those with Multiple Impairments (NA) and many resources for the NA may be found here.

Assessment Features for Effective Instruction

The essential assessments adhere to the RIOT model of assessment that incorporates a Review of records (medical & educational), Interviews with students (as appropriate), families, teachers, and other service providers, Observations in various educational, home, and community environments), and of course formal and informal Testing that is valid and reliable for this student population. The essential assessments are needed for all children and youth with visual impairment no matter their acuity or cognitive levels. Some professionals conduct the FVA on all children and just use the review of record, interviews, and observations for students who are totally blind, while others include this information in their LMAs and do not conduct a FVA.

The most effective testing for students with a severe cognitive disability is conducted as a team with specific outcomes for the testing (i.e., use of real objects or symbols for communication systems). The basic information remains the same but different materials and techniques are employed. Classroom teachers of students who are blind or visually impaired often want to know the recommended distance, size, and color of instructional materials and instruction specific to that student, or how they access learning. In addition, they want to know about the use of real objects or abstract representation of objects for calendar systems. Instruction in the ECC content areas for students with severe cognitive disabilities should be on-going throughout the day as a routine-based intervention with more intensity and opportunities for practice.

For further information about the Essential Assessments Rubric and Functional Vision Assessment (FVA) Video, contact the content team:

Karen Blankenship, Ph.D.
National education consultant for blindness and low vision services
Nashville, Tennessee

Jennifer Coy, M.Ed./COMS/CLVT
Teacher of students with visual impairments and certified orientation & mobility specialist
Jackson, Missouri

Julie Prause, M.Ed.
Teacher of students with visual impairments
Columbus, Texas

Mary Ann Siller, M.Ed.
National education consultant for blindness and low vision services
Dallas, Texas


Ashton, P.T., & Webb, R.B. (1986). Making a difference: Teachers' sense of efficacy and student achievement. New York: Longman.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2000). Teacher quality and student achievement: A review of state policy evidence. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8. Retrieved January 24, 2004, from

EVALS: Evaluating visual impaired students using alternate learning standards emphasizing the expanded core curriculum. (2007). Austin: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Fullan, M. (1982). The meaning of educational change. New York: Teachers College Press.

Gibson, S. & Dembo, M. (1984). Teacher efficacy: A construct validation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(4), 569-582.

Hatlen, P., (1996). The core curriculum for blind and visually impaired students, including those with additional disabilities. RE:view, 28(1), 25-32.

Hatlen, P., (2003). Impact of literacy on the expanded core curriculum. Paper presented at the Getting in Touch with Literacy Conference, Vancouver, B.C.

Haycock, K., Jerald, C., & Huang, S. (2001). Closing the gap: Done in a decade. Thinking K-16, 5(2). Education Trust.

Jordan, H., Mendro, R.L., & Weerasinghe, D. (1997, July). Teacher effects on longitudinal student achievement: A report on research in progress. Paper presented at the CREATE Annual Meeting, Indianapolis, IN.

Moore, W.P., & Esselman, M.E. (1992, April). Teacher efficacy, empowerment, and a focused instructional climate: Does student achievement benefit? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Research Association, San Francisco, CA.

Ross, J.A. (1992). Teacher efficacy and the effect of coaching on student achievement. Canadian Journal of Education, 17, 51-65.

Sanders, W.L., & Rivers, J.C. (1996). Cumulative and residual effects of teachers on future student academic achievement. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Value-Added Research and Assessment Center.

Toelle, N., (1986). Quality programs for students with visual impairments.

Toelle, N., & Blankenship, K.E. (2008). Practice report: Program accountability for students who are visually impaired. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 102(2), 97-102.