Preparing our Learning Disabled Students for PARCC Testing

 

PARCC logo

The times are changing …

When Tennessee adopted the Common Core State Standards we accepted the challenge to change what we will teach and how we will teach it to reach new academic heights.  Along with that, we also changed how we will test for it and that part has made things a little scary in the world of special education…

When PARCC designed the new tests to evaluate student learning of the CCSS material, they elected to administer them in a brand new computer-delivered format. That’s what is making special education teachers across the country a wee bit nervous.

While nobody is arguing with the move toward technology-based assessments, teachers are overwhelmed by the secondary demand of preparing our learning disabled students to actually access the tests and navigate through them unaided.   Students must be able to read the directives, follow the prompts and input the responses without the hand-on assistance of a teacher. There is the real possibility that students may actually become smarter from instruction using the new standards, but might not be able to demonstrate that if they’re are so overwhelmed by the navigation and access issues related to the test that they can’t focus on the content!

The good news… according to the newly released PARCC Accessibility and Accommodations Manual, students will have access to all word processing functions as well as a wide range of integrated assistive technology supports during testing.  Examples include text-to-speech, voice dictation, word prediction, spell checkers, pop-up dictionaries, translators, text adjustments, screen magnification and more.  If it’s included as a learning support in the IEP, they will be allowed to use it on the test.  Now, that’s progress!

The not-so-good news… most of our teachers don’t know how to use these tools, so their students don’t know how either.  For students that do, they’ve never been allowed to use them during a high-stakes test. This IS change for the better. These access supports really do level the field for a lot of our kids.  We just need a plan for teaching them what they need to know to access and make the most of them.

More good news…as part of my graduate level work with Western Governors University, I have taken on this topic for my courses in instructional design.  I will be posting information and links for Web 2.0 tools that replicate those we’ll see on PARCC tests.  As I gather information and ideas, create new  materials and find new resources, I will be sharing them here.  We have been advocating for the increased use of AT and this is the best thing to happen to our LD kids in a very long time!  Let’s turn ‘scared’ into EXCITED!

Co:Writer Word Prediction App Released!

CoWriter screenshotI am always excited when our trusted special education software manufacturers make a program available in app format. I am REALLY excited this week, as Don Johnston just released an app version of Co:Writer®!!

This is a word prediction tool that reduces the number of keystrokes required to type and that makes it a great tool for students with physical disabilities or just poor typing abilities.  Since it provides support for spelling and grammar with writing tasks, it’s an amazing tool for our LD students who know what they want to say but can’t seem to think of the right word or struggle with spelling.  As the first letters are typed, Co:Writer predicts the intended word and presents a selection of word choices. The program uses ‘inventive’ spelling to predict words, even if the student misspells the word or omits vowels.

Word suggestions can be read aloud with a swipe; selecting the intended word places it into the document. Built-in text to speech will read letters, words, sentences, and the entire document using the Heather voice.  Control settings allow for adjustingt the font, text size and color contrast for improved readability.

Co:Writer has access to a main prediction dictionary (that includes core words) and an endless range of Topic Dictionaries (that includes topic specific words).  Available today on iTunes, it will be the best $17.99 you’ve spent in a while!

I already have it and absolutely LOVE it.

Low Vision Apps

There are a number of handy apps out there for those with low vision.  Clarix, a leading provider of magnification systems, has created three new apps and all are free (always the best part!)  Visit their website http://www.clarixusa.com/index.php/products/apps or the iTunes store for more information.  Just remember that iDevices have small megapixel capabilities so the magnification resolution will never quite as sharp as we’d like, but the apps are great.

iCam is a low vision magnifier and reader for your iPhone or iPad. It features 5 high-contrast false color modes, as well as black and white, and color.  iCam can magnify printed text and includes an optional light feature for use in dimly lit rooms.  iCam uses OCR technology to convert printed text to speech, as well.  It takes a picture and then converts it to spoken text.  It uses state of the art OCR technology.  Features include: variable magnification levels, contrast enhancement, pinch zoom magnification, 4 inverse color choices,  full-color and black/white mode options.

Voice IT will read your text messages, incoming calls, voice mail alerts, eMail, etc.  Advanced settings allow you to choose a ringtone alert and repeat what is being read.  For privacy, a discreet mode is available when using headphones.

    

Need to find something on your phone and quickly launch it?  No need to fumble to find a website, contact, song, or app.  Use Find IT.  Start typing and Find IT will show you what you commonly used.  Find anything on your phone quickly and easily.  It remembers your favorite items and search history.  Featuring large type.

  

LARGE Timer is a simple countdown timer for those with low vision.  It has a very simple interface and a large display.  Use it for any timed event or as an alarm.

Tennessee Association for AT Conference

 

Conference 2013

The Call For Proposals went out today for the upcoming state-wide assistive technology conference.  This annual event, held every December, is an amazing resource for all things related to the use of AT in the the special education classroom.  Sessions are designed to give educators and therapists real tools ready for use on return to the classroom setting.

Those who present sessions ALWAYS attend the full conference for free, so hurry to www.taat.org and submit your proposal today.  Deadline for submissions is October 04, 2013.

 

Free Web Accessibility Tools

 

ATbar

I have just fallen in love with another web 2.0 support to add to our technology toolkits!   The Mada Assistive Technology Center in Qatar has created an amazing array of web 2.0 supports packaged in a single toolbar for improving web accessibility.   The “ATbar” contains tools for font magnification, text-to-speech, word prediction, background and font color changes, pop-up dictionary, spell checker and readability adjustments (to reduce visual clutter).

There are three versions of the ATbar:

  • The download version stays available when you move between web pages and is made up of the standard functions.
  • The lite version acts in a similar way to a bookmark or favorite and has to selected each time you visit a new web page – it also has the standard functions.
  • The marketplace version allows you to build your own ATbar, by choosing the plug-ins to suit your needs then save the custom made bar as a bookmark.
  • Other software is available on a USB flash drive with an accessible menu system as a Portable Accessibility Toolkit and there is a desktop version of the ATbar on the download page.

These supports are available for download onto any PC for personal use or directly onto your own website or WordPress blog as a plug-in for those who visit your site.

And…best of all…they’re FREE!!

For more information, visit their site  https://www.atbar.org

Voice Dictation With Dragon Software

I keep a million notes on student and classroom needs, assessment findings, etc. and I have begun to lean heavily on my voice dictation tools to get it all written down before I’ve forgotten it all.  If you’ve never used Dragon Naturally Speaking, you should give the free version a trial run.  I have  the Dragon Dictation app on my iPod  and use this for making notes  throughout the day.  Once back at the office, I upload the notes through my wi-fi onto the software on my desktop for transcription.  We use it for our students with writing difficulties and also for our teachers who need to keep notes throughout the day without taking their hands off the students.  It’s easy and it’s accurate!  For more information on the full range of Dragon programs available, visit http://www.nuance.com/for-individuals/index.htmDragon

iPad Summit Session Resources

We had a terrific turnout for both of our introductory level sessions Using the iPad in Special Education, as part of our new  “iPad Summit” series. If you attended either of these presentations this summer or just want to learn more about the iPad, you will want to look at the Livebinder file containing the powerpoint presentation we used.  Located under the first tab, titled Instructional Materials, the ppt is broken into Part 1 and Part 2 on the gray sub-tabs, as it was too large for loading in one unit.   Valerie Pearce, my good friend and local ‘communication app expert’, offered an individual session during our May 10th  event and an earlier post contains the direct links for all of the AAC apps she showcased, as well.

This binder is full of additional resources to help you learn more about using the iPad in the special education setting and is updated regularly as we find other materials that support the use of the iPad in the classroom.

 

 

Free and Cheap Screen Magnifiers

I am often asked to recommend screen magnifiers for students with low vision who are struggling with computer use.    There are several amazing, multi-function programs available for purchase with a wide range of features, but they can cost between $199 – $500 per installation. This becomes a pricey option, especially since we may not know exactly what each student needs and they may need the support on multiple systems across classrooms (or buildings). With that in mind, I always recommend starting with one of the freebie or low cost options available online.

Mac systems have a nice set of assistive technology supports built in, including cursor enlargement, color inversion, voice dictation and the Zoom magnifier.  Many of you may be familiar with these features, as they are also on the iPad.  http://www.apple.com/accessibility/osx/#vision

Windows systems are also equipped with similiar supports, including text-to-speech, voice dictation and a screen magnifier:  http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/make-items-on-the-screen-appear-bigger-magnifier

Here’s a link to a wonderful article by the American Federation for the Blind, comparing some of the most popular freeware and shareware (low cost) screen magnification programs. You might want to look at these as possible options for any of your low-vision students using a range of computers in different settings. These are just some of the freebie and cheaper choices as reviewed by AFB. http://www.afb.org/afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw140403

The freeware options are just that: free.  But they may not have a wide range of features, offer low screen resolution or lack tech support.  The shareware options allow you to take a free trial download, then buy if you like them.  All listed here are under $29 and the authors make several specific recommendations based upon their trials.

The article suggests creating a separate user account on the computer so the files are downloaded there and then activated by the student user when they log in. We have always used this approach so the system reverts to standard settings once the user has logged off.

If you have a contained classroom or lab, you may want to put one of these on a single system so those students with low vision have immediate access to an adapted computer.  These are inexpensive options for students to use at home, as well.

 

 

AAC App List from iPad Summit Session

Check out these great apps for Communication that were featured at our iPad Summit on May 10, 2013!!  To see more great resources from our training and to learn more about using the iPad in Education, visit our LiveBinder!

  My First AAC – $24.99              Gabby Tabs Lite – FREE

  Fun with Directions – $15.99  Niki Talk – FREE

 Naming TherAppy – $24.99      My Words – $9.99

 Scene Speak – $9.99                     Talking Tiles – FREE

Answers: YesNo – $1.99               Picture Card Maker                                                                                                                   for Communication – FREE

 ComApp – FREE                              STS School – $4.99

 Write My Name – $3.99               Articulation Station –                                                                                                             FREE  (Pro – $49.99)

 Talking Tom – FREE                      iTouchiLearn Words:                                                                                                      Speech and Language – $1.99

Which Go Together – $1.99        iPhone Screenshot 1 Picture Can Talk –                                                                                                                                             $34.99

Injini – $29.99