As Joey begins accessing more academic content, we are constantly attempting to assess how we can best measure his knowledge. Taking all of the potential drawbacks of the AAC device into account, how do we make sure we are measuring the pure academic skills instead of simply measuring his academic skills in relation to the AAC device?
This is a tricky line that many families and educators whose children use AAC devices walk daily. It is a decision point that we make when we ask someone who uses an AAC what they want to do next, and we watch to see if they seem confident with their answer to our question, or if they seem frustrated because they hit an incorrect icon. It takes understanding and professional judgement on the part of the communication partner.
In an educational environment where we heavily rely on data and assessments to drive instruction, this creates a unique situation. How are Joey’s academic abilities assessed accurately, in a way that reflects his true understanding? If we wait until we are 100% sure that he knows a skill through accessing him on the AAC device, we often end up boring him and creating a disincentive for him to participate in our questions. If we presume he knows a skill, we risk pushing him to fast and creating frustration or holes in his academic learning.
As with anything with Joey, we find ourselves falling back onto presuming competence. This does not always create clean lines in our assessments of him – and can leave my data sheets full of chicken-scratch to myself of how many times he took to answer a question on the AAC device, or whether I needed to offer him a chance to answer in another way, and in that case, how long did it take him to answer correctly.
In recognizing Joey’s use of high frequency words, we’ve noticed that he is often able to identify these words receptively from a field of 6-8 when they are presented to him in a random order. However, asking him to use his device to read them creates a slower response with more chance of error.
From here, we reach a decision point – is our focus on his ability to read the word, or is our focus on his ability to find those words on his device. And, there are times that each of these skills needs to be measured, and measured separately. Using his receptive knowledge we are able to reflect on how much he knows, and realize how quickly he is able to learn visual information. We can honor his intelligence and his knowledge and move forward with his ability to learn more words receptively. Yet if we stopped there, we would be limiting Joey’s ability to interact with the word on his device, and to show the world what he knows. And so, we continue to push each skill – walking that fine line between his knowledge and his ability to show it effectively.
The essence here lies in teasing out each individual piece of the tasks we are asking Joey to complete, analyzing what each of these steps entails, and recognizing how Joey is able to access each of these steps.