There have been many pain points for special education eligibility, online learning and assessments during the pandemic, but there have also been some successes, speakers and attendees at a virtual SXSW EDU session said Tuesday.
Accessibility barriers for online learning, such as assistive technology not working in conjunction with videoconferencing platforms, has been one of the biggest barriers for students with disabilities in K-12 and postsecondary schools, speakers and attendees said.
The areas of difficulty and progress should be categorized and reviewed so awareness and momentum can build for solutions to problems that could benefit educators and students in the future, said the session’s cohost, Stephanie Cawthon, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
Cawthon and Elizabeth Barker, accessibility research manager at NWEA, cohosted the session, which included conversations with educators of students with disabilities during the pandemic. The conversation covered three areas of pain points and progress.
Special education eligibility and services. K-12 school systems are responsible for identifying students who may be eligible for special education services, but the inability to do in-person observations and the backlog of eligibility evaluations has made that process more difficult during remote and hybrid learning, many in the session said or wrote in the chat feature.
One attendee, however, said the use of videoconferencing for eligibility determinations and for a student’s individualized education program development has brought more parent participation and engagement.
In a previous interview with K-12 Dive, Barker said, “It's our job to find students who are struggling and [give] the appropriate services that are needed in advocating for students who may be struggling that are not identified prior to the classroom environment.”
Remote and online learning. There were many pain points cited for reaching students with disabilities online: Zoom fatigue, unstable internet connections, frustration with not being able to provide enough individualized attention to each student and more.
For students with hearing impairments or who are nonverbal, online learning has been arduous, said attendees. One teacher said her nonverbal students, whose communications devices did not sync with videoconferencing platforms, would need to hold their devices up to their computer screen so the teacher could see or hear their responses.
“I've had a lot of students shut down and just shut their screens off because they're like, ‘Well, you can't hear me anyway,’” the teacher said.
Another teacher said she created a video tutorial to show parents how to video record their children doing school work. The educator added the recordings were helpful because they can be replayed to help determine what supports the student needs.
Meanwhile, another attendee said for some students who are neurodiverse or who have anxiety, online learning suits their needs better.
Assessments. Students with disabilities take assessments to determine special education eligibility and services. Like their general education peers, they also participate in statewide assessments. Barker said there are many layers to the assessment process, such as determining the value of the assessment and who needs to interpret the data.
One attendee said not every assessment is available for online administration and not every online assessment has access features. Another said it will be challenging to assess students in-person this spring who have been learning online this school year.
Other attendees noted getting accurate data is difficult if parents are being overly helpful to their children when supporting them in online learning or testing.
Providing more professional development on administering online assessments with accommodations would be helpful, Cawthon said.