Visual Impairments and Standardized Testing

As we are all quite aware, public schools today quite literally live and die by standardized test scores. The question of whether or not the scores of special education students should be included in class and school score tallies is currently a much-debated topic, as is the fairness of test make-up and methodology for students with certain exceptionalities.

In their 2006 article entitled, "High-Stakes Testing and Implications for Students with Visual Impairments and Other Disabilities," Kim Zebehazy, Elizabeth Hartmann, and Julie Durando evaluate the efficacy with with states have been meeting the needs of visually impaired test takers. The following three findings are particularly unsettling:

1) In 2003, only 10 states reported that they had someone with an understanding of visual impairment pathology on their assessment review committees. These committees are responsible for evaluating whether or not test items are fairly written.

2) Questions that incorporate spatial elements are much more difficult for visually impaired students than their seeing counterparts. How does a blind student interpret a graph? How can a test reader "read" a graph to them without giving away half of the answer?

3) Some test questions, such as picture-based questions designed to test pre-literacy skills in young children, have no bearing for visually impaired students.

If the test scores of blind students approached those of their sighted classmates, perhaps these issues would be less of a concern, but visually impaired students score on average 15% lower on reading/language tests and 20% lower on math tests than students without a visual disability. This indicates that the current testing parameters for visually impaired students are lacking. It may also imply that our classroom teaching is not reaching these students in the ways it must in order for them to stay on the same academic ground as their sighted schoolmates.

-contributed by J. Tabak

Source Text:
Zebehazy, K., E. Hartmann, & J. Durando. (2006). High-stakes testing and implications for students with visual impairments and other disabilities. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 100 (10), 598-601.